TEXICO — You could argue that Tularosa has Texico's number of late.
Mostly, the Wildcats have Jim Coleman, and that was enough to lift second-seeded Tularosa to a 26-21 Class 2A playoff semifinal win over the Wolverines on Friday night.
The 6-foot-4, 180-pound senior got his team on the board with a 47-yard interception return early in the third quarter, then erased a one-point deficit when he went up over a Texico defender to haul in a 51-yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Jared Rocha with 2:04 to go.
It was the third time in four years that the Wildcats have eliminated Texico in the semifinal round, and they largely had Coleman — who happened to be celebrating his 18th birthday on Friday — to thank for it.
"He's an athlete," said Wildcats coach Bryan Jones, noting that Coleman has made a verbal commitment to New Mexico State in basketball. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. Texico has a good football team."
Coleman caught 11 passes in the game for 160 yards.
"He made plays when he had to," Texico coach Ryan Autrey said. "He's a great athlete. We had people there, and he just went up and got the ball."
Tularosa (10-2) will travel for next week's championship game against either top-seeded Santa Rosa or No. 4 Hatch Valley, who clash today at Hatch in the other semifinal.
"At the end of the day, it's called a football game for a reason," Autrey said. "The kids work hard — I love these guys. They're going to be great young men when they get out into the world."
Senior Shay Harrison rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns for the third-seeded Wolverines (9-2), picking up 135 yards after halftime.
"We didn't really change anything," Autrey said. "The kids did a good job of getting blocks and Shay did a good job of running the ball."
Texico halted time-consuming Tularosa drives of 14 and 13 plays in the first half, the first following the opening kickoff and ending when Coleman fumbled at the Texico 23 on an end-around pitch play.
Facing third-and-17, Texico senior quarterback Rallin Harris threw a swing pass to senior Justin Rucker, who broke through several defenders to turn it into a 67-yard touchdown.
That held up until Coleman's interception in the right flat made it 7-7 one minute into the third quarter, coming on a third-and-20 play.
"Turnovers," Jones said. "We had a missed tackle (on Rucker) and had a turnover on their first touchdown, then their turnover cost them a touchdown."
The teams matched scores to finish the third period tied 14-14, but Harrison's 33-yard burst up the middle with 10:35 left put Texico back in front.
J.J. Tuls intercepted Rocha on Tularosa's next possession, but the Wildcats forced a punt and went 67 yards in six plays to pull to 21-20 with 3:43 left when Rocha found junior wide receiver Brett Saenz in the back of the end zone. Rucker sacked Saenz from the blind side, though, on a would-be, go-ahead 2-point conversion pass.
Tularosa forced a three-and-out near midfield, then stopped Harrison for a 3-yard loss with 2:13 left as he ran out of punt formation. Rocha found Coleman deep over the middle for the go-ahead score on the next play.