Tigers rebound from 0-4 start to earn postseason spot
AZTEC — A 5A playoff berth symbolizes the Aztec football team's new lease on life.
Aztec was in a rut nearly two months ago, with frustrations boiling over amid an 0-4 start.
The Tigers were at a crossroads: dominate opponents the rest of the way or ride out a lost 2017 campaign.
They went in the direction of the former, winning five of their final six games, including a 64-56 shootout at Miyamura. Aztec's win over the Patriots not only secured the Tigers’ place in the 5A bracket, but also landed them a home playoff game.
Aztec, the No. 6 seed, will host No. 11 seed Goddard at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“Everyone thought we were the underdogs, and we just came back and proved them all wrong, started blowing out teams. I feel like we’re going to go pretty far,” senior running back Austin Clay said. “I think if we would’ve lost (to Miyamura), it would’ve been a whole different story. We most likely wouldn’t have been in the playoffs.”
Holding calls, false starts and other penalties added up during Aztec’s first four games and hurt any momentum the Tigers may have generated during those contests.
“We never should’ve been in that situation. We’re a better team than that,” senior offensive tackle Jordyn Garcia said. “We just didn’t want to quit playing.”
Afterward, Aztec focused on minimizing those calls. The Tigers paid more attention to things like when to jump off the line of scrimmage on offense and staying put that extra second on defense before attacking the pocket, among other areas.
The Tigers were able to control possessions on both sides as a result. And despite nearly blowing a 48-0 lead in the fourth quarter at Miyamura, Aztec held its ground and finished its business.
“Even though they fought and clawed back, I don’t think there was a point where I thought, ‘Oh crap, we’re going to lose this game.’ I could see in (players’) eyes we’re going to take whatever they throw at us, and we’re going to keep punching,” coach Matthew Steinfeldt said.
Rather than rely on just getting stops up front, the defense from front to back is helping the cause tackling and now has better timing reaching its spots on the field.
“If we can create that type of momentum change with turnovers and some stops, we know that our offense will just feed off that energy,” Steinfeldt said.
On offense, the running backs are more involved and taking pressure off the passing game. The backfield produced 877 of its 1,416 rushing yards during district play.
The Tigers now see a big playoff run coming.
“Playoffs are an all-new game. We’re going to come out hard and heavy,” Garcia said. “There’s really nothing that’s keeping us back.”
Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.