Broncos look to continue recent success over Chieftains
SHIPROCK − The sports rivalry between Kirtland Central High School and Shiprock High School has primarily been linked to both school's successes on the basketball courts.
Shiprock and Kirtland Central have combined for more than two dozen state championships in both boys and girls basketball. The teams have exchanged multiple wins and losses when facing each other in basketball contests in a local rivalry that goes back nearly 60 years.
Fans of both schools will have a chance to be a part of this long-standing crosstown tradition when Kirtland Central's football team looks for their second win in a row on the road Thursday at 6 p.m. at Chieftain Stadium.
According to New Mexico football historian Dan Ford, the Broncos have won 43 of 45 meetings between the two schools on the football field dating back to their first encounter in 1964. The Chieftains only wins over Kirtland Central in football occurred in 1979 and 1983.
"As far as wins and losses are concerned, it's not been much of a rivalry," said Shiprock head coach Anthony Clah. "It's more an emotion than an actual rivalry. But the emotions of the rivalry between the schools definitely goes both ways."
Emotions are exactly what first year Kirtland Central head coach Travis Clary is expecting to come into focus for the game. Before Clary took over the head coaching spot earlier this year, he was an assistant coach for both the Broncos and Farmington Scorpions.
"It doesn't matter about records or history between these two schools," Clary said. "I learned a lot about these crosstown rivalry games when coaching at Farmington for their games against Piedra Vista. "Coming over here, emotions come into play a lot. Both sides are going to be up and ready to go."
The Chieftains (3-3) are coming off a tough 16-8 loss last Friday night at home against Newcomb, while the Broncos (2-2) slipped past Grants on the road by a final of 14-7 last Saturday afternoon.
Kirtland Central got big performances in the backfield last weekend from sophomore Bryle Matthews and junior DeMusico Edcitty, who combined for more than 250 rushing yards and a pair of scores.
"We made a decision a few weeks back to really put a focus on the run game," Clary said. "One of the strongest areas we have has been our running backs and their willingness to carry our offense."
Broncos sophomore Colin Densley recorded eight tackles in the win while junior Elijah Grey and senior Jeryn Dodge managed three quarterback sacks in a solid defensive effort.
"I think our linebackers really stepped up," Clary said. "That's been a real emphasis for us the last couple of weeks, to grow as a unit and they've really reached that goal."
On the flip side, Shiprock fell behind Newcomb 16-0 at the end of the first half last weekend and had only limited opportunities on offense according to Clah.
"The way Newcomb runs their offense is to slow the game down with their running game, and that only gave us a few chances to get our offense going," Clah said. "They played that game plan very well."
The mindset of the Chieftains is vastly different this season than it has been in recent years, when the program was decimated by low turnout due to the pandemic, resulting in a winless season last year.
Last season, Newcomb shut out Shiprock by a final of 42-0 in the middle of a season in which they were outscored by more than 420 combined points after nine games, including a 50-0 loss to Kirtland Central.
"In recent years, we'd have been blown off the field before halftime in a lot of games," Clah said. "Now the kids have that mentality that we can compete and we've shown that on the field."
Following Thursday's game at Shiprock, the Broncos will play one more non-district game at home against Pagosa Springs before tackling Bloomfield, the top-ranked team in Class 4A according to both MaxPreps and the latest New Mexico coaches poll.
"I think we're always going to want to improve on where we're at, but I think we're still on an upswing and haven't peaked yet," Clary said. "The progression of continuing to get better before Bloomfield is going to be vital for us."