Cockrell, Aspaas spearhead the Kirtland rout
KIRTLAND — The Kirtland Central football team is riding a giant wave of momentum, and the timing couldn’t be better.
The Broncos used a 35-point first half to glide by Shiprock 58-8 on Friday at Bronco Stadium on homecoming night. A touchdown pass with 6.8 seconds left on the clock ended the game early on the mercy rule.
Since district play began four weeks ago, Kirtland has looked like a different team and has won four straight mercy rule-shortened games. After a 1-4 start, the Broncos are now 5-4 overall and 4-0 in District 1-4A.
The blowout win over Shiprock (4-5, 2-2) sets up a showdown next week with 8-1 Bloomfield, which is also undefeated in the district. The winner of that game will be crowned the district champion.
The Kirtland defense led the charge on Friday by intercepting three passes, recovering two fumbles and allowing only 92 yards of total offense with 70 of those yards coming after halftime.
“You never know how long kids are going to take to learn a system,” KC coach Greg Jenks said of his defense. “Luckily, it wasn’t more than a year with this group, because it’s safe to say they got it.”
While the Bronco defense shut down Shiprock’s offensive attack, KC lit the Chieftains up on the other side of the ball.
Bryce Dowdy, Avery Washburn and Keishaun Aspaas all scored rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. Dowdy also connected with Aiden Cockrell on a 24-yard touchdown pass to cap a 28-0 Kirtland first quarter.
The short runs were actually set up by Kirtland’s ability to pass the ball downfield with success. Dowdy completed seven passes of at least 24 yards on his way to 294 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air.
“We know we have the deep threats, so we use them,” Jenks said of the downfield attack.
In the second quarter, Keishaun Aspaas accelerated through the trenches and sped all the way to the end zone for a 72-yard score to give KC a 35-point lead by halftime.
Aspaas finished the game with 215 yards rushing to go with the two rushing scores.
The speedy senior is up to 12 rushing touchdowns on the season.
“He’s just been getting better and better and better,” Jenks said. “And he was playing against his cousin Julian (Aspaas) tonight. So I know he wanted a little extra.”
Shiprock gave up more than 300 yards rushing on the night. Chieftains coach Eric Stovall said it was clear that his team was outplayed on the line of scrimmage.
“We got beat up front, plain and simple,” Stovall said. “We didn’t do a good job in the trenches. We’re capable of doing a lot better, and that was the difference in the game.”
The Chieftains didn’t give up, though, and came out completing some passes in the second half. They got all the way down to the red zone before turning the ball over on downs.
They didn’t punch it in, but Stovall said the opening drive of the second half was the product of some mental adjustments at halftime.
“I told the guys we have to show the kind of heart we’ve shown all year and fight back,” Stovall said. “We had a couple good passes, a couple good runs, and I was proud of that first series of the second half.”
Shiprock showed more defensive resistance than it did in the first half, but Kirtland was still able to get touchdowns from Cockrell, Washburn and Riley Hamblin in the second half.
Steve Lara scored Shiprock's lone touchdown of the night on a 35-yard pass from Arjay Miller in the fourth. Lara made a nice play to rip the ball away from the defender before backpedaling into the end zone.
Up 50-8 with less than two minutes left in the game, Kirtland’s offense went into hurry-up mode and was eventually rewarded with the 10-yard TD pass from Dowdy to Hamblin to end the game six seconds early.
With KC right on the bubble of making the 4A playoffs, Jenks said he was trying to do what he could to help his team secure a state bid, but he admitted he was unsure of the decision to run up the score.
“I’m new at head coaching, I’ll say that, so was it the right decision? I still don’t know, I’m still questioning it,” Jenks said. “But I know that those people who decide who gets in (to the playoffs) and who doesn’t, they’re not watching us play. They’re looking at final scores.”
Jenks said he has been looking forward to the Bloomfield game since he became KC’s head coach in April.
“These are the type of games you live for, as a coach and a player,” Jenks said. “This is what sports is all about.”
Shiprock will try to close out its season on a high note next week when it visits Wingate (1-8, 0-3.)
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.