Senior captain has battled through injuries to become reliable playmaker for the Tigers

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AZTEC — With everything the Aztec football team has endured in the first half of the season, senior Dylan Sutherland wasn’t about to let Farmington spoil his team’s shot at a 2-0 district record on Friday.

The Scorpions, who had three more wins than the Tigers before the teams met at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium, trailed 29-26 when they began a desperate last drive from their side of the field.

But Sutherland wouldn’t even let the Scorps cross midfield, let alone come back and win the game.

The Tigers team captain sacked Farmington quarterback Kody Becenti on back-to-back plays to cripple Farmington’s hopes of a comeback.

“I knew if I just bull-rushed their tackle, I could beat him,” Sutherland said of the sacks. “It was 29-26. We had to make a stop. It was a clutch moment, I guess.”

The upset win was huge for a Tigers team that has been through more downs than ups in 2015.

Last year, Aztec made it to the state quarterfinals. But after graduating more than 20 seniors and watching more than a dozen starters get injured in the season’s first half, the Tigers found themselves with a 1-5 record before Friday's game.

So when the 1-5A district season started two weeks ago, head coach Matt Steinfeldt saw it as a clean slate for his team.

“The great things for the kids is they were able to buy into the idea that district provided a new life and it began a new season,” Steinfeldt said. “So Dylan, along with a lot of the other seniors, have taken this later portion of the season and said, ‘The time is now.’”

Steinfeldt said he believes Sutherland’s fiery on-field demeanor has rubbed off on the rest of the team.

“Dylan’s got a great motor on him. When he sets his mind to accomplish something, he always does it,” Steinfeldt said. “He’s one of those kids that can flip a switch. He can go from one mood to the next like it’s nothing, and he really relishes those game-deciding moments like we saw on Friday.”

In addition to the Tigers' new outlook on the season, they also finally have a healthy Sutherland for the stretch run.

Early in the 2014 season, Sutherland broke a bone in his foot and didn’t return to action until the state quarterfinal loss to Goddard.

In the third week of this season against Durango, Colo., he suffered a high-ankle sprain that caused him to miss a few weeks. When he returned in early October, Steinfeldt eased the senior back into action and limited Sutherland to offense.

But the coach let Sutherland completely loose on Friday. The senior said his ankle feels much better, and though it’s not 100 percent healed, he’s no stranger to playing through pain.

“It’s just about mental toughness, it’s something you have to zone out,” Sutherland said. “When I first came back, I had to really fight through pain, but it’s pretty much behind me now.”

Now that his ankle woes seem to be in the rear view mirror, Sutherland can get back to doing what makes him so valuable to the team: playing multiple positions.

“Since sophomore year, he’s been starting all over the field,” Steinfeldt said. “He’s got a great skillset and a great knack and savvy for this game. It’s been pretty remarkable how fast he’s picked up every position we’ve put him at.”

In Sutherland’s two-plus seasons on varsity, he’s spent time playing running back, wide receiver, tight end, outside linebacker, inside linebacker, defensive end and defensive tackle.

Sutherland said he takes pride in being a versatile player.

“I love being that utility guy,” he said. “Wherever the team needs me, I’ll go and do the best that I can.”

The Tigers are now 3-5 overall and 2-0 in District 1-5A. They will play the underdog role again on Friday when they host Piedra Vista (6-2, 2-0), which has won three straight games.

But Aztec is building momentum with its two consecutive wins. And Sutherland and his teammates have rallied around the “new season” mentality since the district schedule kicked off. They believe anything can happen Friday night.

“Since we won the Gallup game, it was a great start, a fresh start,” Sutherland said. “It changed everything for us. Things are really starting to click together, and we believe in each other.”

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

A closer look: Dylan Sutherland

1. Favorite team?

"Dallas Cowboys."

2. Favorite athlete?

"J.J. Watt."

3. Favorite food?

"Pizza."

4. Favorite movie?

"The Other Guys."

5. Favorite subject in school?

"Math."

6. Least favorite subject?

"Science."

7. Biggest fear?

"Knowing I didn't put my full effort into something and losing."

8. Do you play any other sports?

"Wrestling and track."

9. What is the first thing you would do with $1 million?

"Buy a Lamborghini."

10. Do you have any pregame rituals?

"We say a team prayer and then I like to kind of get myself away from everyone else and listen to music."

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