FARMINGTON — The animal that is Brad Hardin could not be stopped when it mattered most Friday night.
Hardin, a dynamic Aztec senior, had only two offensive touches in the first half, but made the most of six in the second half and, more importantly, in the fourth quarter when he scored twice for the Tigers.
No. 6 Aztec was tied at seven with No. 10 Farmington at Hutchison Stadium going into the fourth quarter, but two touchdowns by Hardin and a key interception swung the game in Aztec’s favor in a 20-7 win in the District 1-4A opener.
“Aztec has always been a fourth quarter team. No matter what we always know we will come back and in the second half we will shine,” Hardin said. “No matter what, I know Adam Lucero has my back and I have his. When our backs are against the wall, we have each other.”
Lucero, Aztec’s senior quarterback, made plenty of highlight plays of his own but struggled throwing the ball at times Friday night in the cold weather at Hutchison Stadium.
But the senior leader still finished with 197 yards passing and two touchdowns, the last a seven-yard strike on a slant to Hardin on 4th-and-5 that was the dagger to FHS with only 3:41 to play.
“Hardin is the type of guy that when you need something to happen, you go to him,” Lucero said. “He is a player on defense, special teams and offense. Without him, of course this game would have had a different result. Give it to Hardin for playing awesome.”
Four turnovers haunted the Scorpions, including two in the fourth quarter that led to Aztec’s 13 fourth-quarter points.
“You can’t give a good team like that the ball. At inopportune times, we had turnovers, especially the fourth quarter,” said FHS head coach Gary Bradley.
The first was an Essiel Carrasco fumble, his second of the game. The fumble set Aztec (4-3 overall, 1-0 District 1-4A) up at the Scorps’ 24-yard line.
A few plays later, Hardin was in the end zone on a 15-yard run.
On the next drive, Hardin hauled in a tipped pass from Farmington quarterback Jacob Lucas. The interception set the Tigers up on the 50-yard line and Lucero found Hardin less than three minutes later for the game’s final score.
Aztec turned the ball over twice to Farmington’s four, including a Lucero interception in the first quarter on a ball that was tipped by Shane Goeckner and intercepted by Kyle Reynolds.
Farmington (5-3, 0-1) was held without a first down in the first quarter but moved the ball well in the second.
However, a Carrasco fumble recovered by Joey Dotson killed one Scorps drive and a Avery Rasher fumble recovered by Cody Rinerson ended another in the second quarter.
“Our defense worked their tails off. The staff and players did an extremely good job,” said Aztec head coach Matt Steinfeldt. “Farmington is a great team and we had success defensively against a great running team. That is what won the game for us.”
Aztec scored the game’s first touchdown in the second quarter on a 19-yard pass from Lucero to Rinerson.
Lucero finished just 9-19 passing in the first half and 19-33 overall.
“I am not pleased with my performance. We all have a lot to clean up,” Lucero said. “Coming out of the bye week, we were a bit rusty. Now, with a good win under our belts, we can go out and sharpen things up in practice.”
Farmington shut Hardin down in the first half, but it was a coaching adjustment that freed him up late in the game.
“They were double covering me and then coach started moving me around to open me up,” Hardin said. “I am glad coach did that because I was able to get space.”
After a non-conference schedule that saw three losses, Aztec proved it is still the force to reckon with in District 1-4A going into a pivotal matchup against No. 4 Piedra Vista next Friday at Hutchison Stadium.
“Our guys know how to win. The craftiness of an Aztec football player is that he knows how to win games,” Steinfeldt said.
Bradley was also impressed by Aztec after the team has seen so much adversity since last season.
“Aztec has some great athletes. Obviously Lucero is a great leader and he can run and pass it,” Bradley said. “He and Hardin are monsters. They played as a team tonight and fought through a lot of adversity. They did a good job and enough to win.”
The Scorps’ lone touchdown of the game came on an Austin Foutz run in the third quarter with just over a minute left before the fourth.
Bradley was impressed with his defense’s ability to limit the Tigers and knows his offense didn’t do enough.
“Our defense was playing awesome. They really gave us opportunities, but we didn’t quite take advantage of those,” Bradley said. “We felt pretty good going into that fourth quarter.”
With the win, Aztec has beaten Farmington in ten consecutive regular season games. The Last Scorpions team to beat Aztec was in 2002 when the Scorps won 20-12.
Farmington will have a chance to rebound next Friday at Kirtland Central (3-5, 0-1).
“The character we have in our locker room is very strong and positive. I don’t know that tonight’s outcome or the way we played the game made any difference as far as our competitiveness. We have a confident bunch of guys who I know will bounce back and learn from this game,” Bradley said. “If we can take care of ourselves, I think we will be alright. We are confident playing against anybody.”
Aztec will prepare for a tough game against PV in which the Tigers can likely celebrate another District 1-4A title with a win.
“We know PV has a lot of weapons like Beau Clafton and Bryson Martinez. They will be good athletes out there and we have to match our with theirs and hope for the best,” Hardin said. “Defensive coach (Mike) Kovacs does a great job of picking plays that he knows will work and we will do a great job executing them.”