Organ Mountain falls to Centennial, but team bond has never been stronger after Romero's passing

Stephen Wagner
Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES – Friday night, Organ Mountain played the hardest game of the season. And not because of Centennial's talent level.

Friday afternoon, some Knights players attended a viewing for their teammate, Abe Romero, before his burial Saturday. Friday evening, the team played their arch rival, Centennial, for their district opener. And Saturday morning, they'll attend Romero's funeral. Five of Romero's teammates will be pallbearers.

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But even though Organ Mountain's district opener resulted in a 49-10 loss to the Hawks in the first game the Knights have played since Romero passed away last Saturday, the Knights were still able to hold their heads high. Organ Mountain head coach Steve Castille previously said he wasn't sure if his team would walk out and play the best game in the history of football or if the Knights would struggle to find a motivating spark.

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In the end, they played a game they think Romero would be proud of.

Organ Mountain plays bow their heads during the 22 second silence for their former teammate Abraham Romero before a high school football game on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at the Field of Dreams.

"They finished the game. They played hard. I don't believe we just gave up or anything like that," Castille said. "Those guys were competing until the 48th minute, and I'm proud of them for that."

Friday's game was the biggest rivalry game either school will play this season, but neither bleachers were littered with signs about beating the opponent. Most offered casual encouragement, but nearly all included Romero's number, 22. Some Organ Mountain players wore undershirts with Romero's jersey number. The teams held a 22-second moment of silence for Romero at midfield before the game after running out of their respective tunnels. Centennial also wore helmet stickers with Romero's jersey number for the first time this season.

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The 7 p.m. game gave the Knights a 150-minute reprieve from the grief of the last seven days until Romero's funeral Saturday. A visitation begins at 9 a.m. with services following at 11 a.m. at Las Cruces First, 5605 Bataan Memorial West. Castille hopes Saturday will be the final "bad day" in a three-to-four-week run of difficult days.

"We're putting a lot on our 16-year-old, 17-year-old heads, and we didn't play the best game we could," Castille said. "Our kids just need to focus on getting through tomorrow. They've just had bad day after bad day. Tomorrow's hopefully the last of the really bad days before we can get together and regroup."

The Knights still want to take care of Romero's family, particularly his mother, and are discovering how to care for each other. Castille said the team walked around somewhat numb this week and had moments where they didn't follow their normal week of game planning and preparation. He said the mental toll it took on players and coaches was difficult, but in the end, the Knights still had to face a Centennial team more talented and battle hardened than any team they faced thus far.

Organ Mountain defensive back Fabian Lozoya runs the ball during a high school football game on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, at the Field of Dreams.

Centennial led 14-0 after the first quarter and 35-3 at halftime. The clock ran continuously for most of the second half after the Hawks stretched the lead to 42-3. Organ Mountain found the endzone in the closing minutes for its lone touchdown of the game.

Few Organ Mountain players smiled as they walked off the field. Some were consoled by coaches as tears streaked down their faces. Others were consoled by other players. But they all leaned on each other -- physically and emotionally.

"I told (the players) I love them. Tomorrow is the last of a bunch of really hard days in a row," Castille said. "I'm obviously irritated and upset about the score, but what matters is that our message to (the players) doesn't change. (We) love them regardless, and we're proud of them."

Stephen Wagner is a sports reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can found on Twitter at @stephenwag22 and reached at SWagner@lcsun-news.com.