AZTEC — The Aztec football team took two weeks of frustration out on Kirtland Central Friday night at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium here, scoring on each of its first six drives and going on to win 56-21.
It was all Aztec (1-2) in the first half of the Tigers' home opener. Led by quarterback Cody Smith, the Tigers scored 35 points in the first half, which was more than they scored in either of their first two games.
Smith, a sophomore, amassed 224 yards passing and four touchdowns, all before the break. He added another score on the ground on a 5-yard quarterback keeper for the game's first score.
After being outscored a combined 101-42 in their first two games of the season, Aztec coach Matt Steinfeldt said it felt good to come out and play such good football.
"There's always a comfort zone when playing in front of your home fans, so it was all about getting home for us," Steinfeldt said.
Two of Aztec's four first-half passing TDs went to senior Jake Taylor, who caught 11 balls for 233 yards. Steinfeldt said the rapport between Smith and Taylor has been strong.
"We've had some injuries at receiver, so Jake got a lot of looks tonight, and he made the most of them," he said. "He did exactly what he was supposed to do, and he and Cody really have a great relationship out on the field."
Down 28-0, the Broncos (0-3) managed to score on their fourth drive of the night on a 7-play, 63-yard drive punctuated by a 15-yard TD pass from QB Bryson Dowdy to Riley Hamblin, who was wide open over the middle.
Aztec answered with an efficient five-play, 53-yard drive that took only 36 seconds. Smith went 5 for 5 on the drive, and every receiver he completed a pass to was able to promptly get out of bounds. The Tigers scored with just seconds left on the clock before halftime.
"(Smith) gets out there, he's comfortable, and we give a lot of autonomy to our quarterback to see the field and redirect our receivers into the position they need to be in," Steinfeldt said of Smith on the quick drive. "He managed the offense like a pro."
The Broncos did start the second half on the right foot. A little more than two minutes into the third quarter, Dowdy threw his second TD pass of the night to Aiden Cockrell from 13 yards out.
Dowdy had a solid night, completing 10 passes on 22 tries for a total of 214 yards. But just like in his team's first two games, the sophomore QB didn't have much time to operate in the pocket.
"I think our offensive line has improved. It's a work in progress, obviously," Kirtland Central coach Greg Jenks said. "As for Bryson, he's had varsity experience in basketball and baseball as a freshman. So he's academically a sophomore, but not athletically. He's just gotten better every week."
Just like with KC's first score, Aztec responded quickly when Smith eventually found Beau Crawford for the duo's second TD connection on the night from a yard away.
The Tigers would coast to victory from there.
Smith added his seventh touchdown when he scampered into the end zone just inside the right pylon from 5 yards out toward the end of the third quarter to trigger the running clock.
He finished with a monster stat line. The Tigers QB went 24 for 31 for 254 yards passing, five passing touchdowns and two more rushing scores. Steinfeldt said he has grown a lot, even since last week.
"The growth between week two and week three has been phenomenal for Cody," he said. "I felt like he played well against Durango (last week), but the growth he's made this week was huge. He's a good ball player."
Derek Baca led the Tigers in rushing, toting the ball 19 times for 150 yards.
Keishaun Aspaas led Kirtland in rushing with 66 yards on 14 carries. Hamblin caught two touchdown passes on the night. One was a 15-yard reception, the other a 13 yarder.
Tackling has been a major issue for the Broncos, who have given up at least 43 points in all three of their losses this year. Jenks said tackling will be his main focus for the upcoming week of practices.
"Tackling at every level has been a problem," Jenks said. "It seems like we're either diving at feet or wrapping around the head, when it's supposed to be in between those two spots."
KC will host Los Alamos next Friday, while the Tigers travel to Del Norte High School in Albuquerque for a Saturday night game.