Late rallies have propelled Shiprock to 3-1 start

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SHIPROCK — Even when the odds are seemingly stacked against them, members of the Shiprock football team are showcasing their resolve in late-game battles.

"It's really inspiring, actually. These guys, they play when they're tired. They play to their fullest when they're hurt. But they fight through it," senior running back Brandon Lapahe said.

Winning back-to-back road games at Dolores (Colo.) and Gallup this month, the Chieftains started off with shaky special teams play but overcame that with good old-fashioned grit on both sides of the ball.

Trailing in the final moments of regulation each time, Shiprock's offense methodically stormed down the field and capitalized on its possessions.

"You just have to keep the chains going, and that's worked out really well for us," Lapahe said.

Down 19-18 with four minutes left at Dolores, Shiprock started at its own 40 and won the game 24-19 with 12 seconds left on a touchdown reception by Tyris Newton. Newton also had the game-winning touchdown reception with less than two minutes left at Gallup, resulting in a 26-22 Chieftains victory.

Shiprock (3-1) is prolonging possessions with basic runs and short routes in the passing game.

"We made the play call simplistic for the kids. They understand we're also trying to keep the run and the pass game balanced. That way, we have more success moving the chains, but at a pace we can control on our end," coach Eric Stovall said. "What it does for our offense is give them that confidence play to play."

And the front four (Carlos Redhouse, Zach Yazzie, Cota Nakai and Latrell Ben) on defense are getting critical stops to ensure that the Chieftains maintain control. Those defenders are putting constant pressure on opposing offenses, giving the linebackers the freedom to do their jobs and giving the secondary chances to make extra tackles, Stovall said.

"They are initiating really good contact, wrapping up (opponents)," Stovall said.

But the Chieftains are hoping to improve their special teams early on, especially in covering opposing returners and forcing more turnovers that way so they won't have to depend on late-game heroics to win games.

Shiprock is home at 6 p.m. Friday to face Cuba.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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