Tied at 21 with No. 6 Aztec in the final minute of the fourth quarter, No. 5 Piedra Vista sent Clafton out to attempt a 32-yard field goal.
There was never a doubt about the kick as Clafton split the uprights to give Piedra Vista a 24-21 win and the first victory against the Tigers since 2006.
“It was just routine instincts. We work on those situations in practice every day,” Clafton said. “This team has come close together. They had faith in me to kick it, and it felt great to have that bond. I have faith in them to block and get the snap perfect. It is just routine.
“Every six years since 2000 we have beat Aztec. It is a great feeling that you can’t even explain.”
PV head coach Jared Howell never had a doubt that Clafton would make the kick.
“Clafton missed one last year against Bernalillo, and we used that to toughen him up. We were preparing him for the path, not the path for him,” Howell said. “He went out there with a bloody nose and cramping up. Many things could have happened, but he put it right through.”
When asked about the kick in Bernalillo, Clafton said, “That is our of my head now. Clear out of my head.”
PV (8-1 overall, 2-0 District 1-4A) took complete control of the district with the win and can claim the district championship with a win against No.
10 Farmington next week in the regular season finale.
“It will be a great experience to be able to play for a district championship here in this stadium against our crosstown rival,” Howell said. “It will be a great thing. The Scorps are well-coached and will be ready for us. I don’t expect anything less than a game similar to this.”
Friday night’s game at Hutchison was tied at 14 going to the fourth quarter.
A week earlier, Aztec (4-4, 1-1) was able to score twice in the fourth quarter to defeat Farmington 20-7, but PV had momentum going into the final quarter this week.
The Tigers had a nice drive going in the third quarter and worked inside the red zone, but with 6:05 left in the third quarter, Aztec receiver Wyatt Schlueter was stripped after catching a screen pass.
PV senior Bryson Martinez ripped the ball out of Schluter’s hands and Aaron Rino fell on the ball to give the Panthers possession.
The Panthers then drove 84 yards on 18 running plays while eating seven minutes and 38 seconds off the clock.
The drive concluded with an Isaiah Valdez one-yard touchdown run, his second of the game. The score put PV up 21-14 with 10:27 left in the game.
“That drive was a defining moment. We imposed our will on the opposing defense,” Howell said.
Valdez credited the offensive line for clearing big holes for him and running back Stratton Waller to run through all night.
“Of course we have big playmakers, but it started with the line. They made it happen,” Valdez said.
PV rushed for 268 yards in the game. Valdez had 135 and two touchdowns while also fumbling twice on 21 carries.
He also had 136 yards and a touchdown through the air on 7-14 passing.
Waller had 98 yards on 23 carries.
“We have leaned on Waller and Valdez to pound it out. We put them game on their back, and Waller is a tremendous guy to have,” Howell said.
With magic running through his veins, Aztec senior quarterback Adam Lucero tried to will his team back into the game.
With just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Aztec faced 4th-and-10 on the PV 35 yard line. Lucero scrambled to avoid a pass rush and then threw a prayer to the middle of the field.
Braden Goimarac, who also had a 74-yard reception in the game to set up a score, camped underneath the pass and made the catch to get the Tigers to PV’s two-yard line.
One play later, Brad Hardin was in the end zone for Aztec and an extra point tied the game at 21.
“I told the team to believe because I thought we would pull off the win, to be honest,” Lucero said. “I had faith, but we couldn’t secure it. You have to hand it to PV. It was one of those nights where the better team won. PV deserved this one. It was a hard-fought game and they were better.”
Lucero credited PV’s defensive line for a great pass rush and the PV secondary for hanging tough in coverage down field.
“Their defensive line was very strong. i underestimated that aspect of their game. No. 88 (Kolt Munoz) was an animal,” Lucero said. “Their defensive backs coach, you could tell he had them ready, too. They were prepared.”
Lucero finished the game 26-43 passing for 415 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown or an interception.
Ryneal Lewis-Adams had two rushing touchdowns in the game for Aztec.
Despite the loss and likely missing out on a district title, Lucero is confident the team will rebound and still make a run deep into the state playoffs.
“What team who has ever won hasn’t overcome adversity? We lost Andrew Pope, my best friend. We changed coaches, which was hard,” Lucero said. “Our coach, (Matt) Steinfeldt, coaches his butt off and is doing a great job with us, but it takes tim to adjust. He will keep rebuilding this team each week and we will come back fighting.
“I would love to see PV again. That is all I am looking forward to now. We have to take it game-by-game, but I really want to see PV.”
Beating Aztec was a huge confidence booster for PV, especially Valdez.
“He won’t admit it, but I think this was huge for Valdez going against Lucero and getting a win,” Bryson Martinez said. “You beat Superman and one of the best quarterbacks in the state.
“Waller is also one of the top running backs in the state, too. He doesn’t get a lot of hype, which fits him because he is a low-key guy, but he has to be one of top-two runners in 4A.”
Martinez said the team will enjoy the win for 24 hours before turning their focus to Farmington.
“We will be focused in practice. We have to have an even better week of practice this week than last week,” Martinez said.