Clutch kicks lift St. Michael’s over Por­tales

Salazar strug­gled last week; three ex­tra points he scores proves to be dif­fer­ence against Por­tales

Santa Fe New Mexican - - FRONT PAGE - By James Bar­ron

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.

COURTESY JOHN DENNE

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.

COURTESY JOHN DENNE

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.

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