FARMINGTON – The Piedra Vista football team was a dominant force in the first two weeks of its District 1-5A schedule, and the Panthers were again dominant in week 3.
The Panther offense wore down Aztec’s defense with a heavy dose of running and rumbled to a 43-14 win over the Tigers to take sole possession of first place in the district standings.
PV’s defense proved to be the difference in the lopsided win.
Throughout the game, Aztec’s offense was able to move the ball down the field, but every time the Tigers neared the red zone, PV’s defense clamped down and stopped them.
“We had some good momentum at times, but what they did defensively worked really well against us,” Aztec head coach Matt Steinfeldt said. “We knew we needed to establish a run, and we never got it off the ground. We weren’t consistent with the run game, and that makes things inside the red zone extremely challenging because they could clamp down on the passing game.”
And stopping Aztec’s potent passing game was the key to the Panthers’ defensive game plan.
“They do some good things. Jake Taylor, (Dylan) Sutherland and (Beau) Crawford, they’re as good of a receiving corps as there is. And (quarterback Cody Smith), what a bright future he has,” PV head coach Jared Howell said of Aztec. “We made them earn every yard, and they earned every yard. I was really pleased with the defensive game plan our coaches came up with. It was just a hard-fought battle.”
PV quarterback Elijah Gamboa led the Panther offense, accounting for four touchdowns, three on the ground and one through the air.
Since moving from running back to quarterback at the start of the season, taking over for an injured Ryan Montoya, Gamboa has been the leader of the Panthers.
Howell credited PV’s offensive coaching staff for creating a system in which Gamboa and the rest of the offense could thrive.
“We’re not asking them to do things they can’t do, and we’re highlighting the things they can do,” Howell said. “We’ve got some good athletes out there and a lot of running backs. It shows, and it’s a hard thing to stop. Our offensive line is getting better and better, and they did some great things.”
After a short touchdown run from Gamboa and a field goal from Christian Chavez, PV held a 10-0 advantage with 11:57 left before halftime.
The Panthers (7-2, 3-0 District 1-5A) made it 17-0 when Alex Shay broke through a giant hole on the left side for a 24-yard touchdown.
On the Panthers’ ensuing possession, Gamboa hit Matt Gonzales for a 34-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 24-0 with 3:15 left before halftime.
Aztec (3-6, 2-1) finally scored with 28 seconds left in the second quarter when Smith found Crawford alone in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.
But the momentum the Tigers gathered before halftime was stolen by the Panthers at the start of the third quarter. Starting at its own 18-yard line, PV drove 82 yards, all on the ground, and scored on a short run from Gamboa to make it 31-7 with 7:26 left in the third quarter.
PV was back in the end zone to start the fourth quarter, this time with a bit of trickery.
On the scoring play, Gamboa lateraled to receiver Casey Simmons, who was lined up on the left side of the formation. Simmons set his feet and found a wide-open Shay streaking down the sideline for the touchdown.
Aside from a 25-yard run from Dylan Sutherland on the opening play of the game, Aztec’s running game was stifled. The majority of Aztec’s rushing yards came on designed pass plays when Smith tucked the ball and ran for yardage.
Aztec finally scored again midway through the fourth quarter on an 8-yard run by Smith to make it 37-14.
Gamboa had the final score of the game on another short run to make it a 43-14 final.
Piedra Vista will play at Gallup (3-5, 1-1) next week with a chance to claim the district title.
“I want to see a team that wants to win the district outright. I don’t want to see a team that thinks they have everything locked up,” Howell said of the Panthers. “Champions play every game, and they show up every game. Gallup is a much-improved team, and they have some athletes. They’re perfectly capable of beating us on any given day.”
Aztec will have a bye next week and will be back in action on Nov. 6 against Miyamura (3-5, 0-2) in Gallup.
“We still have a great chance of finishing second in district,” Steinfeldt said. “This district, more often than not, sends at least two teams to the playoffs. While our record may not be great, our body of work may be enough to get us in the playoffs.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times He can be reached at 505-564-4648.