Clutch kicks lift St. Michael’s over Portales
Salazar struggled last week; three extra points he scores proves to be difference against Portales
No man is an island — unless you’re a kicker on a football team.
Kickers are often an afterthought, forgotten when they do their job,
remembered when they don’t. During a postgame talk on the field, St. Michael’s assistant coach Kevin Hauck made a point of singling out junior Andrew Salazar on a Saturday in which the Horsemen regained their identity as a physical football team. Minutes after St. Michael’s beat Class 4A’s top-ranked team Portales by a 21-20 score at Christian Brothers Athletic Complex, Hauck mentioned the three extra points Salazar connected on after Horsemen scores, compared to the one 2-point conversion the Rams had off of their three touchdowns.
The speech was met with hearty applause, which was music to Salazar’s ears after a rough start to the season, as he made just five of 11 point-after kicks heading into the Portales game.
“My confidence was kinda down at the beginning of the year,” Salazar said. “I feel like I’m getting my confidence back up to where it needs to be, where I feel like I can be.”
If Salazar needed some inspiration, St. Michael’s head coach Joey Fernandez found a not-so-subtle way of supplying it. He brought in soccer player Sam Baca to give him a shot at kicking.
“That’s one thing we’ve been stressing, is we got to get those extra points,” Fernandez said. “I think [bringing in Baca] helped [Salazar] out and made him understand that it was important.”
It was the last point-after kick that proved to be the most significant, and it came on a signature drive for St. Michael’s. A week after abandoning the run in favor of quarterback Antonio Gabaldon’s right arm in a 41-15 loss at Moriarty, the Horsemen used their first drive of the second half to cement the run-first tone they started to create in the first quarter.
St. Michael’s pieced together a 13-play, 68-yard scoring drive — done all on the ground — that lasted 8 minutes, 29 seconds and was punctuated by a 1-yard touchdown run by Joey Fernandez Jr. out of its full-house set that features a pair of linemen in the backfield.
Salazar followed with his kick that squeaked past the right upright to give the Horsemen a 21-14 lead with 2:17 left in the third quarter.
“I’m proud of him,” Fernandez said of Salazar. “He stepped up and got the job done.”
On the other side, Portales opted for 2-point conversions. The Rams converted only after its first touchdown when quarterback Tyrese Dawson ran it in over the left side after he scored on a 3-yard touchdown run to give the Rams an 8-7 lead with 6:55 left in the first half.
Dawson, who scored all three touchdowns on runs, was not on the field for the final 2-point try after he scored on a 5-yard touchdown run to trim the Horsemen lead to 21-20 with 1:20 left in the game. As he crossed the goal line, a Horsemen defender grabbed him from behind as he planted his right foot. Dawson fell down in pain, grabbing his knee, before limping off the field.
Gone was the Rams’ best offense, as Dawson threw for 179 yards and ran for 60 on 16 carries with along with his scores. In his stead was Julian Uroiste, who ran toward the left sideline, but was pushed out of bounds as he dove for the orange pylon. It appeared that he touched it with the ball, but the official ruled Urioste was out of bounds when he did it.
“It was hard to see,” coach Fernandez said. “There were so many people there. … And there was a hold [penalty] on that, too. I saw jersey, but it wasn’t called. But it didn’t count anyway.”
The answer for the Horsemen was to keep the ball out of Dawson’s hands for as long as they could — and the best way to do that was via the ground game. After getting pushed around by the Pintos defense and collecting 20 rushing yards, it turned the tables on the Rams and gobbled up 194 yards on 44 attempts.
The duo of Fernandez Jr. and Derrick Roybal benefited the most from the line’s play, as they combined for 142 yards on 25 carries.
“All week, we had planned on shoving it down their throat,” Roybal said. “All week. We came into this game, ready to run. That was our game plan since Monday.”
The only thing that could upend that game plan was turnovers, and it almost did. St. Michael’s fumbled the ball three times and Gabaldon threw two interceptions. Two of the turnovers came in a six-play sequence in the second quarter in which Portales also fumbled the ball away.
The second miscue came when Gabaldon lost the ball on a sack, and Rams linebacker Josiah Lucero pounced on it at the St. Michael’s 13 yard-line. It set up Dawson’s first touchdown and 2-point run.
The Horsemen didn’t flinch, though, as Gabaldon found Fernandez Jr. on a screen and the senior rumbled through the Portales defense and kept his balance when Urioste tried to ankle tackle him at the Rams 15 before skipping into the end zone for a 66-yard touchdown and a 14-8 lead with 5:47 left in the second.
Gabaldon’s first pick, which Lucero grabbed on a deflection, led to another Rams touchdown set up by a 51-yard Dawson connection to Juan Espinoza to the St. Michael’s 6. Dawson eventually scored on a 5-yard touchdown, but was unsuccessful on his 2-point run that left the score knotted at 14-all with 2:10 left in the half.
Fortunately for the Horsemen, they did their part to finish off touchdowns. And Andrew Salazar can wake up Sunday knowing he’s not so alone.
St. Michael's quarterback Antonio Gabaldon protects the ball as he is tackled from behind while Portales linebacker Logan McDaniel closes in Saturday at Christian Brothers Athletic Complex. St. Michael's defeated the Rams 21-20.
Horsemen kicker Andrew Salazar delivers an extra point Saturday against Portales at Christian Brothers Athletic Complex, helping St. Michael’s to a 21-20 win. Last week, he struggled to hit extra points.