SHIPROCK — The Shiprock defense stepped up by forcing three turnovers and holding Gallup off the scoreboard after halftime to help the Chieftains earn a 28-14 victory tonight at Chieftain Stadium.
The game featured 17 penalties and six turnovers, four of which went the Chieftains' way. An emotional coach Eric Stovall said he was proud of Shiprock (2-2) for its effort tonight, especially after intermission.
"It's a credit to the assistant coaches and the kids. This is a big win for us," Stovall said. "I'm really, really proud of this group of kids because they play for each other."
The Class 5A Bengals and 4A Chieftains needed two drives apiece to warm up before taking turns scoring on four consecutive first-half possessions.
Gallup (2-1) missed a 41-yard field goal attempt on its second drive, but created a new opportunity moments later when Kevin Stewart picked off Chiefs quarterback Rakeem Anagale on the Shiprock 34-yard line.
Just three plays after that, Gallup QB Dominick Stewart trotted into the end zone from 6 yards out for the game's initial score.
But the Chiefs didn't wait until they were in a two-score hole to respond like they did last week.
On the first play of the ensuing drive, Shiprock tailback Steve Lara made a pair of lightning-quick cuts around the line of scrimmage and then sped off for 56 yards, deep into Gallup territory.
Lara stayed hot after last week's 144-yard rushing performance by earning 74 yards in the first half alone. Stovall said he looks locked in this season and has demonstrated a great attitude.
"The one thing is, (Lara's) driven, he's self-motivated and he has that ability to be humble and have some humility to him," Stovall said. "He's just one of those players that makes good decisions on the field. A great north-and-south runner for us with the help of his linemen."
Lara gained 12 more yards on the drive before Anagale finished the job by floating a ball to Adrian Gibson for a 16-yard, over-the-shoulder touchdown connection at the 10:37 point of the second quarter.
After Gallup responded with a score through the air, Shiprock answered with a six-play, 59-yard drive culminating in a 18-yard rocket down the middle from Anagale to Darnell Chee. A 2-point conversion knotted the game at 14.
The teams cooled off after the break, as the game reached its peak in sloppiness.
Shiprock and Gallup turned it over one time apiece in the third quarter and also turned the ball over on downs once apiece. There were six penalties called in the frame, with Gallup receiving four of them for a whopping 65 yards.
The Chieftains made the Bengals pay when Gibson made his second TD reception of the night. The senior receiver caught a deep ball over the middle when the defender covering him tripped and fell. Gibson then sprinted toward pay dirt for the 53-yard score, giving Shiprock its first lead of the night.
A scary moment occurred at the 6:36 mark of that third quarter. During a Shiprock run, Gallup defensive back Tyler Jones was hit awkwardly and fell to the ground. He was motionless, face down, for nearly 30 minutes before being turned onto his back, strapped to a stretcher and taken off the field in an ambulance.
In the fourth, Gallup ate up more than five minutes on a drive centered around Jason Alatorre and the run game, but when the Bengals diverted from that approach, Shiprock captain and cornerback Jahred Smith made them pay with an interception near midfield.
The Shiprock defense then closed it out, stopping Gallup one more time and getting the ball back to the Chieftain offense, which put the game away on a 28-yard Lara touchdown run inside the game's final four minutes.
Lara finished with 128 rushing yards. Anagale had only four completions, but three of those went for touchdowns. Stovall said Anagale is still a little rough around the edges but is definitely progressing in a leadership role.
"I think the biggest thing is, he's matured and he's grown as a leader," Stovall said. "He's improving fundamentally, and there's still things we need to work on — there always is — but he's assuming that leadership role."
Shiprock hosts another 5A team in Kirtland Central (3-1) next week.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.