By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Fort Sumner knew early in last Friday’s Class 1A semifinal game against Cloudcroft that it would reach the state championship game.
For Texico, it came down to a 96-yard drive in the fourth quarter, culminating in Justin Garrison’s 4-yard touchdown run, and then Garrison’s game-sealing interception.
The area rivals meet in the title match for the fifth time in nine years at 2 p.m. today in Fort Sumner. The Foxes (10-2) avenged an earlier loss with a 51-13 rout of Cloudcroft in the semis, leading 32-7 at halftime, while the two-time defending champion Wolverines (7-4) advanced to their fifth consecutive 1A final by slipping past host Capitan 19-16.
Even though Fort Sumner holds a 9-5 series edge since former coach Mario Martinez took over the program in 1992, including 4-0 in championship games (1997, 1998, 2001 and 2002), Texico eliminated the Foxes 42-0 in a quarterfinal contest last year.
“They’ve got a lot of kids back from that team,” said Wolverines coach Mike Prokop, whose squad graduated most of the top players off consecutive 12-0 title squads. “They’re (ranked) No. 1 and we’re No. 2. We’re going to have to be able to control the ball on offense, and not give up big plays on defense.”
Second-year Fort Sumner coach Dexter McDaniel, a longtime assistant to Martinez, expects his team to be focused.
“Our guys, from the time they’re little, that’s what they dream of,” he said of playing in the finals. “Our kids have been working hard.
“It’s going to be a battle, and we’re looking forward to it. It’ll depend on how well our line plays. We’re playing (against) one of the better lines we’ve seen all year; Prokop always has them well-trained, and it’ll be a test for us.”
Texico almost didn’t make it to the finals, fumbling scoring chances away twice at Capitan before going the length of the field late to win it.
“They’re an up-and-coming team,” Prokop said of Capitan, which lost to Fort Sumner 43-0 in the second week of the season. “We tried to tell our kids they’d be a good football team because they can throw the ball.”
The Wolverines lost senior halfback-defensive end Eddy Segovia to a broken leg in a quarterfinal playoff win over Questa. Segovia also supplied all of the team’s kicking.
Prokop said senior Weston Casey has gotten the call at running back and as the punter, while senior Carlos Meza has stepped in at defensive end and senior Zane Anderson has taken over placekicking duties.
“The kids have just got to play up and not worry about stuff like that,” Prokop said. “You’ve still got to block, tackle and run.”
Meantime, the Foxes have rolled through most of their late-season games and McDaniel noted that they’ve been able to heal a slew of nicks from earlier in the year.
“Martinez is one of the all-time great coaches, and he got it started,” McDaniel said. “We’re just trying to keep it going. It’s going to come down to who wants it the most and who makes the fewest mistakes.”