CAPITAN – A game ending fumble recovery.
There’s a statement you don’t see every day. But that’s exactly what happened, Nov. 25, in Capitan’s 14-7 overtime victory over Dexter in the Class 3A State semifinals.
After the Tigers (11-1) had taken a lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Price Bowen to Stephen Ellison, they just needed to keep Dexter from scoring to earn their third trip to the State title game in the last five years.
They got it on the first play from scrimmage for the Demons, as Dexter running back Gabino Rodriguez couldn’t handle the pitch from quarterback Jarren Amaro, and the ball was on the ground.
Capitan’s Brendan Usrey just happened to be in the right place at the right time to fall on the ball and end the game.
“Coach had been telling me to go for the running back,” Usery said. “I did what he said and it turns out it worked out.”
When these two teams last faced off in the regular season, Capitan had a relatively easy 27-13 victory.
But this time, neither team could get much going offensively in the cold night air at Tiger Field. They regularly saw offensive drives stopped when things looked good.
For Dexter (9-3), it was the Tiger defense that would come up with a great play. For Capitan, it was penalties.
“I don’t understand it, we made a lot of mistakes tonight, turned the ball over,” said Capitan coach James Weems. “But we just had to play the game after that.”
“It was just mishaps, sometimes that happens,” Usery said. “But the good thing is, we came out and finished the game.”
Capitan had the ball first and seemed to be driving to a sure score, but a sack on Bowen and a delay of game call forced the Tigers to turn over the ball on downs.
Similarly, the Demons were driving on their first possession, but David Morales was tackled for a 12-yard loss and had to punt the ball away.
That’s pretty much how the whole game went. The Tigers were finally able to get on the board early in the second quarter on a 43-yard rushing touchdown by Ellison.
Bowen seemed to add another score with a 48-yard rush near the end of the half, but the play was called back on a holding call.
Dexter tied things up with 9:06 left in the third quarter on a 20-yard pass from Amaro to Rodriquez, but that was pretty much the game a nutshell, as neither team scored the rest of the way in regulation.
While there was no scoring, there was no shortage of drama in the fourth quarter. The teams had four turnovers in that frame, including a spectacular leaping interception by Jacob Smith at midfield with 5:47 left.
“We just can’t let those things happen,” Weems said of the turnovers. “But this was the team we’ve got and they did the job tonight.”
But none of those fireworks amounted to anything, as things came to a close with the game knotted at 7-all.
Under New Mexico Activities Association overtime rules, each team gets the ball at the 10-yard line and four downs to score. Then it’s the other team’s turn.
Capitan won the toss and had the ball first, but driving 10 yards for a score still wasn’t that easy. After a five-yard rush by Ellison, the Tigers were flagged for an illegal shift, placing them back at the 10.
It was then that Bowen found Ellison for the score to put them ahead and set up the final play.
“We wanted the ball first to stop their momentum,” Weems said. “But going in and scoring first, that was huge for us.”
Capitan will face either Eunice or Estancia in the championship game. The Bears are at Eunice today in the other Class 3A semifinal.
Capitan has faced both this year – Dexter, Capitan and Eunice are all in the same district – and Weems would be happy with either matchup.
“We’ll prepare best we can for either one,” Weems said. “I would prefer to see Eunice, because the game would be played here.”