By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
ROSWELL — In its bid for a second consecutive state six-man football title, Melrose dominated most of the statistics against Gateway Christian on Saturday — except one.
The Buffaloes rolled up an 18-9 advantage in first downs and a 566-310 margin in total yardage, but the Warriors converted five Melrose turnovers into touchdowns and rolled to a stunning 78-47 win.
Gateway junior Jevvon Hunter was held under 100 yards rushing despite a 65-yard scoring burst on his first carry, but the Buffs (11-1) couldn’t contain him through the air. Hunter completed 13 of 23 passes for 192 yards and six touchdowns.
He also had an interception return for a TD — his sixth of the season — to help seal the deal midway through the final period as the Warriors (10-1) avenged their only loss in the season opener at Melrose.
“Win or lose, we would’ve felt like champions today, and I think Melrose felt the same way,” Warriors coach Shaun Wigley said. “I’m ecstatic, to be honest. I’ve never won one of these — and I never expected to be that far ahead.”
Senior Carlos Ruiz ran 26 times for 196 yards for the Buffs, but suffered a bruised thigh while breaking up a Gateway pass over the middle in the second quarter. He later turned an ankle just before halftime.
He had 154 rushing yards in the first half, but spent the rest of the time in and out of the lineup.
“They played great today, and we just weren’t very sharp,” said Melrose coach Dickie Roybal, who has led the Buffs to six championship game appearances in his nine seasons, with two titles. “It’s just one of those things.
“I hate it for our (six) seniors; they did everything they could. It just didn’t fall our way.”
Ruiz put Melrose ahead on the second play from scrimmage, taking a deep pass from senior Brock Graham and eluding the pursuit on a 66-yard scoring play. He added TD runs of 46, 10 and 43 yards before halftime, the latter staking the Buffs to a 33-32 lead with 4:51 left in the half.
They didn’t score again, though, until less than seven minutes remained, and by that time the Warriors had opened a 23-point advantage.
“We lost our speed,” Roybal said, referring to the injuries to Ruiz. “When you do that and you’re trying to play catch-up, it’s just not going to happen.”
Gateway scored three times after starting inside the Melrose 10 — twice on Buffs turnovers and once on a 56-yard kickoff return by Hunter, who was caught from behind by Ruiz at the Melrose 7.
Hunter’s 65-yard run came one play after Graham lost a fumble, and Gateway turned the other turnovers directly into points in the second half — a 30-yard fumble return by Daniel Taschner in the third quarter, and Hunter’s interception return in the fourth.
Taschner also went 9 for 10 on two-point conversion kicks, missing only after the final touchdown.
“The game was a lot closer than the score reflects,” Wigley said. “We got some turnovers. … I was still scared with four minutes left because I know how (Melrose) can score.”
Graham went 7 for 18 passing for 186 yards and two touchdowns and carried eight times for 51 yards and a score for the Buffs, while sophomore running back Adam Hairgrave added 83 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Six-man state championship
Saturday at Roswell
Gateway Christian 78, Melrose 47
Melrose 14 19 0 14 — 47
Gateway Christian 16 24 16 22 — 78
M — Carlos Ruiz 66-yard pass from Brock Graham (Ramon Arenivar kick), 9:05
GC — Micah Kirschbaum 14-yard pass from Jevvon Hunter (Daniel Gaschner kick), 8:02
GC — Hunter 65-yard run (Taschner kick), 3:15
M — Ruiz 46-yard run (kick failed), 1:42
M — Adam Hairgrove 12-yard run (kick failed), 9:17
GC — Kirschbum 17-yard pass from Hunter (Taschner kick), 6:41
M — Ruiz 10-yard run (run failed), 5:26
GC — Raymond Vaz 7-yard pass from Hunter (Taschner kick), 5:08
M — Ruiz 43-yard run (Graham run), 4:51
GC — Lizardo Feliciano 2-yard run (Taschner kick), 1:27
GC — Taschner 19-yard pass from Hunter (Taschner kick), 8:43
GC — Taschner 30-yard fumble return (Taschner kick), :55
M — Lonnie Clark 19-yard pass from Graham (kick failed), 6:51
GC — Benjamin Chavez 38-yard pass from Hunter (Taschner kick), 5:58
GC — Hunter 47-yard interception return (Taschner kick), 5:45
GC — Taschner 6-yard pass from Hunter (kick failed), 4:19
M — Graham 4-yard run (Arenivar kick), 2:45
First downs 18 9
Rushes-yards 50-343 24-118
Passing yards 223 192
Total yards 566 310
Comp-att-int 9-22-3 14-25-1
Punting 1-29.0 3-42.0
Fumbles-lost 4-2 0-0
Penalties-yards 6-53 2-10
Rushing — Melrose, Ruiz 26-196, Hairgrove 13-83, Graham 8-51, Cedar Rush 2-12, Tyler Tatum 1-1. Gateway Christian, Hunter 15-89, Raymond Montes 1-25, Feliciano 4-5, Taschner 3-1, Benjamin Chavez 1-minus 2.
Passing — Melrose, Graham 7-18-2-186, Ruiz 1-3-1-22, Tatum 1-1-0-15. Gateway Christian, Hunter 13-23-1-192, Chavez 1-2-0-0.
Receiving — Melrose, Rush 4-76, Clark 2-46, Ruiz 1-66, Tatum 1-20, Hairgrove 1-15. Gateway Christian, Taschner 6-921, Kirschbaum 4-44, Chavez 2-49, Vaz 1-7.
Records — Melrose 11-1, Gateway Christian 10-1.