FARMINGTON — From day one of the football season, the Farmington High School Scorpions set out to be one of the best defensive teams in the state.
That defense came through when it mattered the most as FHS shutout Goddard 7-0 in the Class 4A State Football Championship to give the Scorpions their first title since 1952 on Saturday at Hutchison Stadium.
"It's who we are. Every game, we don't care who we play. We want that shutout. We'll fight for it," said FHS head coach Gary Bradley. "The bend-but-don't-break philosophy was in force 100 percent."
The Scorpions forced four interceptions -- two apiece from Goddard's Cameron Neff and Cody French -- and three 3 and outs to stifle the high-powered Rockets' offense that came into the contest averaging just more than 34 points per game.
FHS (12-1) wanted to limit Goddard's running game and force the Rockets into uncomfortable third down situations.
"We knew that they run a lot, and we knew that if we forced passing situations then we'd force turnovers," said Tierney Staley, who had two of the four FHS interceptions.
The defensive line and linebackers stepped up to slow the Goddard running game, and any doubts about the health of Brian Farley's knee were erased on the first play as he stopped French for a minimal gain.
"I think that being a leader on this team gives me power and lets me do my thing. I'm thankful for that and that I was able to heal up and recover," Farley said. "I'm speechless. All the hard work we put in over the summer and all the way until now has paid off. It's the greatest feeling in the world to be a part of this team."
The defense's ability to stop French early in the game provided a real confidence boost for the Scorpions. They limited the Goddard star to just 22 yards on nine carries in the first half.
"Our linebackers and d-line all did great. Farley came in, and I don't think his knee was bothering him at all," said Kyle Reynolds.
While the Scorps' defense excelled all game, the Rockets (9-3) were able to shut down the FHS offense.
But late in the third quarter, the Scorps finally hit a big play to get into scoring position.
Quarterback Jacob Lucas found a diving Avery Rasher on a deep post route over the middle of the field for a 30-yard gain to give the Scorps the ball at the Goddard 12-yard line.
Three plays later, FHS scored the only touchdown of the game when Lucas lofted a pass to Reynolds. Reynolds leaped over Rocket defensive back Adam Gomez to come up with the 10-yard touchdown catch at the 11:56 mark of the fourth quarter to cap a seven-play, 56-yard drive.
"Jacob and Kyle called that touchdown play, and I just followed their lead," Bradley said. "We tried to be opportunistic on offense and take what they give us. They were there to stop the run. We saw some things to take advantage of, and we were two-for-two on big plays there."
Reynolds was confident in the play call after the Rockets had single covered him the entire game.
"I told coach that they were in a man coverage and if Jacob threw it up to me, I'd go get it," Reynolds said. "It wasn't just me, though. Avery had that awesome catch to get us down there. I knew that the passing game would come through when we needed it."
Lucas said the connection he had with Reynolds was something the two had worked on all season.
"The instant we walked out there I knew Kyle had it. I trusted him, and he went up and caught it for me," Lucas said. "It was phenomenal."
After the offense broke the 0-0 deadlock, the defense was ready to carry the team the rest of the way to a championship.
"If we can keep a goose egg on the board, we knew we'd have that state title," Staley said.
The Rockets had a final chance to tie the game with less than a minute left.
After starting a 17-play drive on its own 13 yard line, Goddard marched down to the FHS 2 and appeared on the verge of its first touchdown of the game.
Neff and French lost yardage on the next two plays, setting up fourth and goal at the FHS 5. And then the raucous Scorps' crowd helped cause the Rockets' fifth false start penalty of the game, backing Goddard up to the FHS 10.
Goddard's last play was a well-run out route to the right side of the end zone, but Neff's pass went through the hands of Dean McDaniel, turning the ball over to the Scorps on downs and clinching the state title.
The Rockets' drive began with 7:23 left on the clock. Goddard moved its way down the field thanks to French, who gained 50 of his 128 rushing yards on the drive to get the Rockets into scoring territory. But Farmington's defense was determined to keep its shutout.
"We had so many games this year where we could have had shutouts like Los Alamos and Kirtland," Staley said. "That was a big thing. Defense wins championships, and we saw that today."
In the first half, the Scorps dominated the field position battle in large part because of Xander Walker's punting.
Walker, who also had an interception in the win, pinned the Goddard offense inside its own 20-yard line on six occasions in the game.
Bradley said in a defensive contest, the punting game turned out to be important for FHS.
"(Walker) did a great job and kept it away from two dangerous people back there. That's huge to keep that offense down there," Bradley said. "Special teams came into play, and our punt team kept them pinned back.
The offense didn't get too much going in the opening two quarters, but the Scorps had one chance to score just before the half. However, after an intentional grounding call on Lucas, Tyler Blades missed a 31-yard field goal attempt, sending the teams into the locker room scoreless.
Chayton Salcido saw most of the touches at running back in the first half with Farley spending most of his time at linebacker early in the game. Salcido received limited carries through the season, but played well in Farley's place, gaining 35 yards on nine carries.
"All week, Chayton and Champ (Mendoza) were getting the reps in during week," Farley said. "After halftime, I felt great, so they threw me in there."
Farley returned to his running back spot to gain 40 yards on 10 carries in the second half.
The turnover battle was key coming into the game, and the Scorps knew they'd have to limit any mistakes to have a chance to win.
FHS committed only four penalties and no turnovers in the victory. Bradley credited Lucas for the Scorps' ability to maintain possession and avoid negative plays.
"(Lucas) did his job. He doesn't care about stats. He wants to find a way to win and that's why he's our quarterback," Bradley said.
FHS didn't lose to a team from New Mexico all season, dropping its only game to Durango, Colo., 21-2 on Sept. 19. That loss motivated the Scorps, who thought they'd eventually meet up with Goddard in the playoffs.
"We always talked when we're out here throwing it around how if we could ever play Goddard they'd have to come here for the game because they owed us," Staley said. "That was the goal. But people talked all year that we couldn't make it. They said that since we lost to Durango, we didn't have a chance. We just worried about ourselves."
After winning its first title in 61 years and competing for a championship for the first time since 1962, Bradley hopes the entire city will celebrate the Scorpions' victory.
"It's a privilege and an honor to be here," Bradley said. "It's a total team effort with the community and the school and obviously our football team."