KIRTLAND — For the Kirtland Central football team, it felt good to be home.
The Broncos picked up their second straight win with a 28-20 victory over Gallup on Friday night in Kirtland’s home opener.
Kirtland (2-3) opened with its first four games on the road, and head coach Kevin Graham said having the home crowd behind them was crucial in the victory.
“The fans were awesome,” Graham said. “We’ve been on the road for a long time. The key was we never quit playing. We fought all night. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
In a game that went back and forth, the Broncos’ defense made the game clinching play.
With Kirtland nursing a 21-20 lead and less than three minutes to play, linebacker Rashaun Nez intercepted a pass from Bengal quarterback Taylor Ramirez and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown.
Graham described Nez as the “emotional leader” for his team on the defensive side of the ball.
“Nez is awesome,” he said. “He gets us going every day for practice, and you can see he plays with nothing but heart. I didn’t know he could run that fast.”
Gallup (2-3) got one more chance with the ball, but a deep pass on fourth down fell incomplete.
The Broncos jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first half.
Quarterback Rashaan Sorrelhorse capped off a four-play, 65-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run to give Kirtland a 6-0 lead in the first quarter.
Sorrelhorse scored again on three-yard sneak with under a minute left in the first half. Alex Kamae ran in the two-point conversion to push the lead to 14-0 at the half.
Gallup fought back in the second half.
Bengal running back Dominic Martinez broke an 80-yard touchdown run just 44 seconds into the third quarter to cut Kirtland’s lead to 14-6.
After Kamae fumbled a punt, Martinez scored for a second time from four-yards out. Ramirez ran in the two-point conversion to tie the game at 14.
Martinez ran for 169 yards, but needed 30 carries to do so and found the Kirtland defense tough to break through outside of the one long touchdown run.
“They had that one good run,” Kamae said. “But we made sure we didn’t get our heads down. We kept our heads up and just got the win.”
Graham thought his team’s ability to gang tackle Ramirez eventually wore him down and was important in slowing down the Gallup ground game.
“Running to the ball, that’s what we stress on defense,” he said. “We got to get eight or nine men to the football every time.”
Momentum was still on the Bengals’ side late in the third quarter thanks in part to a Sorrelhorse fumbled snap that gave Gallup excellent field position.
The Bengals capitalized on the mistake when Ramirez snuck in from a yard out to give Gallup a 20-14 lead with just under 11 minutes left to play.
It took just 2:08 for the Broncos to regain the advantage.
Kamae busted through the line and scored on 48-yard touchdown run, and the ensuing extra point put Kirtland up 21-20 and gave the Broncos a lead they would never relinquish.
For the second straight game, Kamae broke the 100-yard barrier with 123 yards on 17 carries. Afterward, he gave all the credit for his success to his offensive line.
“It was all my linemen,” Kamae said. “Everybody blocked for me. We had a good game. We didn’t quit and knew we could get this win.”
Kamae also had an interception in the win as the Broncos’ secondary held Martinez to 15-of-34 for only 126 yards and two interceptions.
The Broncos next game will be their homecoming game Friday against Capital.