By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer
The road to the six-man state championship was a long one for the Melrose Buffaloes.
Along the way to the school’s second state title six years, the Buffaloes weathered a 16-hour round-trip in the semifinals and a snowstorm that postponed the title game four days.
The Buffaloes rode the swift feet of junior running back Carlos Ruiz and a defense anchored by all-state players Coy Speer and Jeremy Weese to an 11-1 record and a 74-60 win over district rival Floyd in the title game.
Melrose’s run to the state title was selected as the fourth biggest local sports story in 2004 by the CNJ staff.
In the championship game, the Buffaloes came back from a 30-14 deficit to beat Floyd, the team responsible for sending Melrose on the road for all three playoff games.
“I think the best thing happening to us was Floyd beating us (28-20) in the district championship,” said Buffaloes coach Dickie Roybal, who captured his second title in his nine seasons at Melrose. “I think we were getting complacent.
“They (the players) finally realized that they were beatable.”
Up until that game, the Buffaloes appeared invincible.
Through the first 10 games, the closest anyone came to Melrose was 24 points. For the season, the Buffaloes won their games by an average 39 points.
Roybal said winning was a lot harder than the Buffaloes made it look.
“If you’re the best team in the state, you have a big target on your back,” he said. “People think you just step on the field and its going to happen, but there’s a lot of work on it.”
Melrose opened the playoffs with an 82-47 win over Tatum before humbling Animas 100-55, both on the road. In the Animas game, Melrose junior Carlos Ruiz scored a national-record 13 touchdowns.
“It was unbelievable,” Roybal said. “I didn’t realize he had that many touchdowns. He’s just our go-to guy.
“There was a lot of people watching that state championship game just because he was in it.”
Selected Offensive Player of the Year, Ruiz rushed for 2,849 yards and scored 56 touchdowns.
Fans and players had to wait a little longer than usual to play for the championship. Due to a huge snowstorm on Nov. 12, the game was pushed back to Nov. 17, a Wednesday.
“That was very weird,” Roybal said. “It was weird leaving from school to play for a state championship.”