Tigers hold off Scorpions for 31-28 victory

Karl Schneider

FARMINGTON — The Aztec football team made all the plays it needed to and took a huge step toward winning the District 1-5A title with a back-and-forth 31-28 win over Farmington tonight at Hutchison Stadium.

Aztec's Cody Smith avoids a tackle by Farmington's Jacob Brown on Oct. 21 at Hutchison Stadium.

“I’m sure it was fun to watch,” Aztec coach Matthew Steinfeildt joked. “That had to be an entertaining game to watch. As a coach, it was a little hectic with all the back and forth. It wasn’t our cleanest game by any means, but I am nothing but proud of how our boys responded at every turn.”

The Tiger defense started slowly, allowing the Scorps to build a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. But after that, the Tigers clamped down and forced four turnovers — two interceptions and two fumbles — to help them to the win.

The Scorps were the dominant team in the first quarter, dialing up blitz after blitz to get to Aztec quarterback Cody Smith, sacking him four times on Aztec’s first possession of the period.

After sacking Smith on fourth-and-four play, the Scorps took over at their own 45-yard line with about four minutes left in the first quarter. Farmington needed only one play to find the end zone, thanks to a busted coverage in the secondary.

On the play, Farmington quarterback Kody Becenti was flushed out of the pocket, rolling right and heaving the ball to Sol Rascon, who didn’t have an Aztec defender within 10 yards of him. He coasted into the end zone.

Farmington runner Axel Fowler finds a hole in the Aztec defense on Oct. 21 at Hutchison Stadium in Farmington.

After recovering a fumble in Aztec territory, the Scorps were back in the end zone a few minutes later. Facing a fourth-and-9 situation after a delay-of-game penalty, Becenti found Donovan Gonzalez for a 30-yard TD to push the Scorps’ lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter.

“We felt like we had a great first quarter, and we had a great fourth quarter. We just have to put that middle part of the game in domination mode,” Farmington coach Jeff Dalton said. “We’re close to being a great team if we can put ourselves in that mode.”

Aztec’s offense found its groove on its next possession, driving 85 yards for a TD when Smith connected with Sebastian McNeal from the 8-yard line.

On Farmington’s ensuing possession, Becenti was picked off by Aztec’s Justin Black at the Aztec 44-yard line. The Tigers (5-3, 3-0 District 1-5A) ate up more four minutes on the 56-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard run, tying the game at 14 with 2:40 left in the first half.

Aztec held the Scorps (2-5-1, 2-1) on their next possession and found the end zone again with 11 seconds left before halftime when Smith hit McNeal on an identical out route at the left pylon.

“We’re pretty fortunate to have a slew of talented receivers, and I think it creates matchup problems for a lot of teams,” Steinfeldt said. “Last week, Justin (Black) went for over 200 yards and two or three touchdowns, and that gives him a lot of attention from other teams when they see that on film. Then, (McNeal) comes out and has a similar performance this week. (McNeal) played well, and Cody has a great familiarity with him.”

Aztec's Sebastian McNeal catches a touchdown pass over Farmington's Jacob Brown during an Oct. 21 game at Hutchison Stadium.

After a forgettable second quarter, Farmington’s offense got back on track in the third, capping a long drive with a 10-yard pass from Becenti to Gonzalez for a TD that tied the game at 21.

But on Aztec’s next possession, Smith found McNeal again, this time down the left sideline for their third TD connection of the game to give the lead back to the Tigers at 28-21.

Aztec extended its lead with 9:35 left in the game when Riley Barber connected on a 23-yard field goal, making it 31-21.

Farmington kept its hopes alive when Becenti found the end zone on a 2-yard QB draw to bring the Scorps within a field goal at 31-28.

But the Tigers fell on the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock for the win.

Farmington will travel to Gallup next week to face Miyamura (7-1, 3-0).

Aztec will host Gallup (2-6, 0-3) next week at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium.

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.