FARMINGTON — Two fourth-quarter stops on fourth down allowed the Shiprock football team to spoil Navajo Prep's homecoming and exit Eagle Stadium with a 20-16 victory Friday night.
All but one touchdown — Shiprock's game-winning score — came in the first half of the rivalry game. The defenses stiffened after halftime, especially that of the visitors.
"I can't say enough about coach Jeffrie Finnell and the defensive coaching staff," Shiprock coach Eric Stovall said.
After scoring two touchdowns in the first half, Navajo Prep (1-3) was stopped cold by Shiprock (2-2) on all four of its offensive drives in the second half.
Down 20-16 with less than four minutes to go in the game, the Eagles appeared to finally break out of their offensive funk when quarterback Dakota Halliburton tossed a screen pass to Jake Rogers that wound up going for 65 yards and a score. However, the play was called back because of a holding penalty.
"There was a couple times that we tried to open up floods, get screen passes going, but penalties just hurt," Navajo Prep coach Storm Tallbull said. "There were a couple times, like with the long screen pass, where we should have had touchdowns. That's just mistakes that the boys have to fix."
But the Eagles continued to drive and still had a chance to steal the win late.
A couple of plays after the holding call, on fourth and goal from the Shiprock 5-yard line, senior defensive tackle Logan Yebeny beat his man at the line of scrimmage and forced Halliburton to throw an incompletion into the ground to give the Chieftains the ball back.
Quiad Shorty, filling in at quarterback for an injured Arjay Miller late in the game, would then pick up a pair of first downs on the ground as the seconds ticked away to secure the big road victory.
"That's just senior leadership," Stovall said of Yebeny's defensive stop. "Just a great kid that does a lot of good things."
Navajo Prep struck first in the game on its opening drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Halliburton to Dante Alonzo.
The Chieftains responded a couple drives later when Miller found a wide-open Steve Lara 60 yards downfield for a long touchdown hookup. That would tie the game at 8 late in the first quarter.
Interceptions halted the progress of both teams in the second quarter as Halliburton threw one, and Miller threw two.
But both teams managed to bounce back from the turnovers late in the half by trading touchdowns inside the final nine minutes of the second quarter.
Shorty punched a ball in on the ground from 6 yards out to give Shiprock a short-lived lead.
On the next drive, Halliburton marched the Eagles downfield, going four for five passing and hitting Jake Rogers for a 20-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead.
Unlike Shiprock, the Eagles converted their 2-point attempt, which was the difference by halftime. Prep took a 16-14 lead into the break.
Right out of the half, Miller and the Chieftains took advantage of a short opening kickoff. They drove 40 yards down the short field and took the lead back from the hosts, courtesy of Lara's second TD catch of the game from 12 yards out.
The Chieftain TD would prove to be the game winner and the contest's final score.
Just minutes after the Lara TD catch, a scary moment occurred at the 5:36 mark of the third quarter.
Eagles wide receiver Jonathon Slim was hit in the back on a play, and he immediately crumpled to the ground.
The junior was motionless for nearly 40 minutes before being taken off the field in an ambulance with what an emotional Tallbull said he believed was a serious injury.
"It was definitely a scary situation," he said, explaining his main concern was just making sure Slim got to the hospital. "So for us, that's where our concentration is now. I'm actually going to go see him after this.
"What I preach to my kids every day is, we're family," Talbull said. "So we have to make sure we take care of our family."
Miller went down early in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury and had to be helped to the sidelines by his teammates. He did not return to the game.
"We'll find out more this week," Stovall said of Miller's injury. "He'll bounce back."
Should Miller be held out of next week's game, in which Shiprock hosts Newcomb (1-3), Shorty will get the start at quarterback, according to Stovall.
Navajo Prep will stay at home Friday for a game against 3-1 Thoreau.