AZTEC — Four unanswered touchdowns by Cody Smith brought the Aztec football team out of a 14-0 hole and earned the Tigers the district championship tonight.
Aztec (7-3, 5-0 District 1-5A) couldn't get out of its own way early on, but Smith and the Tigers eventually figured things out and came away from Fred Cook Memorial Stadium in Aztec with a 28-14 win and the District 1-5A crown.
Miyamura's defense, which was trampled by Farmington for 48 points last week, had a hand in Aztec's early struggles. The Patriots (7-3, 3-2) ran with a 3-4 defense for much of the game, and it aided them in the first half.
"(Miyamura's 3-4 defense) was different from what they showed on film, and we thought that would be advantageous for us, given the box count on the run game," Aztec coach Matthew Steinfeldt said. "But those missed assignments and missed blocks, that's what hurt us early. But I thought we were able to clean that up in the second half."
The first score of the ballgame came three minutes into the second quarter, when Miyamura quarterback Matt Chavez burst through the trenches and accelerated toward the end zone for a 22-yard score.
Less than five minutes later, Miyamura made it 14-0 when Chavez hit Daniel McDonald over the middle for a 47-yard TD on what Steinfeldt thought was Aztec's only big defensive breakdown of the night.
Aztec didn't make it onto the scoreboard until the 1:19 mark of the first half, when Cody Smith capped an eight-play, 48-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Smith managed a little more than 150 yards rushing on the night, most of which came after halftime.
Down 14-7 in the third quarter, Aztec nearly handed the visitors a two-score lead on a silver platter.
The Tigers stopped Miyamura on the first drive of the third quarter, but a roughing the kicker call on the Patriots' punt, followed by an unsportsmanlike penalty called on Steinfeldt for his reaction, cost Aztec 30 yards in penalties, when the hosts should have been taking over on offense.
The Pats started at Aztec's 20-yard line but didn't do much inside enemy territory. The Aztec defense held Chavez to just a couple of yards rushing and then intercepted him in the end zone when Justin Black jumped a route over the middle.
The Tigers picked off four passes on the night. Steinfeldt said the defense, which didn't allow a point after halftime, was awesome in the district clincher.
"Other than the one long touchdown, I thought the defense was lights out," Steinfeldt said. "We kept them out of the end zone as many times as we needed."
The Patriots also shot themselves in the foot during their second-half meltdown with nine penalties. Two of those came on the game-tying drive late in the third quarter.
After piling up 37 rushing yards to get down to the goal line, Smith punched in his second short score to make it a 14-14 game.
A Brandon Trennepohl interception set Aztec up with a short field moments later, and Smith was efficient in hitting Zach Taylor for a 37-yard touchdown pass — the only play of the drive — just seconds into the fourth quarter to snatch the lead.
With all the momentum on their side, the Tigers forced Miyamura to turn the ball over on downs on the ensuing drive and then put the game away with a 78-yard drive capped by Smith's third short rushing TD of the evening.
Smith's fourth TD came with three minutes left and ate up a lot of fourth-quarter clock. He said Aztec's 28 unanswered points were a product of trusting the offensive system.
"We knew we needed to start making the most of drives and score. Just had to show heart and not give up," Smith said. "Had to trust what we were doing and just keep going."
Undefeated in the district, Aztecs hope to be the eighth seed when the state playoff brackets are released over the weekend. If the Tigers do land at No. 8, they'll host a first-round playoff game next week.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.