Texico senior Johnny Rivera returns an interception down the sideline during Friday’s game against Jal at Texico. Photo by Eric Kluth
By Rick White
TEXICO — Jal did something Friday no other New Mexico team has done this season. Score against Texico.
Other than a little prick to the pride, though, it hardly mattered as the top-ranked Wolverines rode a punishing ground game to a 43-7 win that clinched the District 3A title.
Johnny Serrano rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns, leading a trio of Wolverines over the century mark as Texico (9-0, 3-0 in district) finished the regular season unbeaten for a second straight year.
Texico coach Mike Prokop admitted he was somewhat relieved the shutout string of seven-straight games was over.
“It was more a pride thing,” Prokop said. “The kids know winning is the important thing so now we can just worry about that.”
The Wolverines host District 2A runner-up Springer next week in the first round of the playoffs.
The game, which matched Texico’s smash-mouth running game against the wide-open attack of the Panthers, was a hard-hitting affair between the long-time rivals.
“We needed a game like this,” said junior quarterback Braden Vaughan, who rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yard scamper on the Wolverines’ first play from scrimmage. “Jal is tough. They never backed down.”
Senior Mark Peabody (112 yards) also topped the century mark as Texico’s wishbone offense churned out 395 yards on the ground.
Jal (6-3, 1-2) scored on the second play of the fourth quarter on Eric Samaniego’s leaping, one-handed grab of a Matthew Cline pass in the left corner of the end zone. The 18-yard score was set up by Tony Soto’s long kickoff return and a 15-yard personal foul penalty.
The Panthers, operating mostly out of a four- receiver set, moved the ball as well as anybody has this season against the Wolverines. But they were hurt by four turnovers, including a 63-yard fumble return by Johnny Rivera that gave Texico a 36-0 lead late in the third quarter.
Rivera ripped the ball away from Jal’s Tyler Briones after a short pass and, picking up a convoy of blockers along the way, raced down the right sideline untouched.
“I was just trying to make the tackle and the ball was right there,” said Rivera, a senior playing his first season of high school football. “I took off and picked up a lot of great blocks, especially one from (linebacker) Logan Brown.”
Clines went 9-of-25 passing for 91 yards and was intercepted three times.
Soto finished with 50 yards rushing and 66 yards receiving in addition to a pair of long kickoff returns.