SHIPROCK — Less than a week after the Shiprock football team fell victim to an act of vandalism, the Chieftains turned a negative into a positive Friday by winning a 61-46 slugfest over Questa at Chieftain Stadium.
The emotional home victory was Shiprock's first of the season.
"This shows the character of not only our kids, but the community, the coaching staff and the school administration," Chieftains coach Eric Stovall said. "I'm extremely proud of my assistant coaches. They did an excellent job keeping the kids focused."
Last weekend, the Shiprock coach's office was broken into, and an estimated $5,000 to $10,000 worth of damage was done by unidentified suspects. Jerseys, coaching equipment and the office itself were splattered with red paint. Two digital video cameras and one coach's headset were stolen.
Nike agreed to donate 50 new jerseys and football pants to Shiprock, all of which arrived in time to be worn for Friday's game. Piedra Vista head coach Jared Howell donated a coaching headset. Farmington head coach Jeff Dalton and the Questa coaching staff supplied footballs and other equipment.
Shiprock's roster and coaching staff went from heartbroken and confused early in the week to united and driven by the time Friday's kickoff rolled around.
"We just wondered why someone did this to us. We barely got those jerseys and haven't even worn the white ones," Chieftains quarterback Arjay Miller said. "It gives the community and the school a bad name. But we did a good job putting it behind us."
Shiprock (1-2) couldn't have gotten off to a much better start Friday.
Following a quick Wildcats three-and-out series to start the game, the hosts' Julian Aspaas broke loose for a 47-yard touchdown run up the right sideline on the first play from scrimmage.
Five minutes later, after another Questa three and out, Shiprock's Miller hit Brandon Lapahe in the right flat for a 12-yard touchdown completion.
Questa wouldn't quit, however, and a shootout would begin to unfold midway through the first quarter. Lapahe's TD would trigger a streak of six consecutive scoring drives in the game, all of which came before the 10-minute mark of the second quarter.
Quiad Shorty highlighted Shiprock's scoring with a pair of 6-yard rushing touchdowns to propel the Chieftains to a 35-30 halftime advantage.
The Chieftains came out after halftime and put an end to the seesaw scoring trend by putting up 13 straight points to start the third quarter.
It began a minute and a half into that period, when Miller threw a perfect floating pass on the run that fluttered right over a Questa defender's fingertips and into the mitts of Donovan Chee for a 33-yard TD connection. The play came after back-to-back Shiprock penalties, which made it first and goal from the 24-yard line
Shiprock's second score of the third quarter came exactly halfway into the period when Shorty picked up his third rushing TD of the night to put Shiprock up 48-30. He juked a Questa defender out of the way during the highlight reel dash.
Following a 10-yard screen pass taken in for a touchdown by Questa's Mathew Maldonado, the Wildcats were in position to make it a three-point game in the fourth quarter after forcing a Shiprock punt.
But on fourth and 10 from 15 yards out, the Wildcats attacked a one-on-one matchup in the right corner of the end zone, where Chieftains defender Jahred Smith got a hand on the pass and knocked it away to force a turnover on downs.
Smith's pivotal defensive play allowed Shiprock to turn around and mount a four-play, 85 yard drive in a little more than three minutes. The drive culminated in another Miller-to-Chee TD hookup for 33 yards.
Of Miller's four touchdown passes, three came from at least 24 yards. Stovall said his team took what Questa gave it, and what the Wildcats gave them was a lot of big plays downfield.
"(Questa) was in that cover 2 look, and it was a soft cover 2, and we were able to hit the hitches and hit the shoot routes," Stovall said.
Miller said it was a great win.
"It was important to just do what we do every week, to do our school work and focus on the game," he said. "I'm sure everyone's feeling good about themselves now."
The Chieftains will visit Navajo Prep (1-2) next week.