AZTEC — The Farmington football team wasn’t perfect, but the Scorps made all the big plays at crucial times to get a 42-22 victory over Aztec in the first round of the 5A playoffs tonight at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium.
“Really, the story of the night for us was seniors over and over coming up with huge plays for us,” Farmington coach Jeff Dalton said. “They don’t want to be done, and they earned another week. We’re super proud of those guys.”
But the star of the night wasn’t one of the Scorps’ seniors. It was junior running back Axel Fowler, who gutted the Tiger defense throughout the night in both the running and passing game.
“The (offensive) line has been coming together, and Axel is really learning to trust those guys,” Dalton said of Fowler. “He’s starting to hit the holes at the speed we need him at. He’s trusting lanes and turning on the afterburners. And he’s tough to stop when he gets to full speed.”
The night couldn’t have started any better for the Scorps.
Donovan Gonzalez received the opening kick at the 5-yard line and broke through a massive hole on the right side to take the kickoff 95 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown.
Farmington held Aztec to three offensive plays on the ensuing possession and took over at its own 48 after an Aztec punt. The Scorps were back in the end zone a handful of plays later when Gonzalez punched it in from 1 yard out to make it 14-0 Farmington with 9:02 left in the first quarter.
Farmington extended its lead to 21-0 with less than two minutes left in the first quarter when quarterback Kody Becenti found a wide-open Sol Rascon for a 28-yard strike.
The quick start from the Scorps, and the slow start by the Tigers, was eerily similar to when the two teams met on Oct. 21 and Farmington took an early 14-0 lead.
“We’ve been there against them. We started slowly a couple weeks back when we played them and were able to put together a solid second quarter then, and the message was very similar,” Aztec coach Matthew Steinfeldt said. “We just needed to start playing our ball, and for the second quarter, we did.”
Aztec broke through one minute into the second quarter, finding the end zone when quarterback Cody Smith kept the ball for a 16-yard rushing touchdown.
On Farmington’s ensuing possession, Aztec outside linebacker Kyler Duggins reached up at the line of scrimmage and snagged a Becenti pass for an interception. After Duggins returned the pick to the Farmington 22, Smith connected with Sebastian McNeal for a quick TD, making it 21-15 after a two-point conversion.
The Tigers’ two quick scores were all too familiar for Farmington, giving the Scorps a feeling of déjà vu.
“I think we learned from the first time and a lot of the other games before that this season because we were in that same situation in a few games,” Farmington quarterback Kody Becenti said. “We knew exactly what we needed to do, and we did it.”
What the Scorps needed to do was take back the momentum, which Becenti said is key in high school football. On its next possession, Farmington drove 80 yards to push its lead back to two scores when Becenti connected with Rascon again, this time from 7 yards out.
Aztec answered with Smith finding Justin Black for a 15-yard TD that would be the final score of the first half, sending it to the break with the Scorps holding on to a 28-22 lead.
After a scoreless third quarter, Farmington found the end zone to extend its lead to 35-22 after a 99-yard drive. The possession started at the Farmington 1-yard line after the Scorps recovered an Aztec fumble and finished with a 67-yard run from Fowler.
Aztec coughed up the ball again on its next possession, and Farmington made the Tigers pay with Becenti hitting Jacob Brown for a 59-yard catch and run for another TD.
Farmington advanced to the quarterfinals with the victory and will travel to Albuquerque to face No. 2 St. Pius X next week.
Dalton said he doesn’t know a lot about the Sartans yet, other than they have a great quarterback in Drew Ortiz.
“We know St. Pius has one of the toughest quarterbacks in the state,” Dalton said. “We had a chance to see him a little bit this summer, and he’s good, but so is every quarterback in District 1-5A. We know we’ve been kind of battle tested with great quarterbacks, and we’ll see what else they have around him when we start studying the film.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.