Santa Fe High, with more than 1,400 stu­dents, will take the field tonight against tiny Es­calante, en­roll­ment 105. But don’t call the Demons the fa­vorite — they haven’t been for years

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

In terms of en­roll­ment, mo­men­tum and his­tory, Fri­day night’s prep foot­ball game be­tween tiny Es­calante and host Santa Fe High at Ivan Head Sta­dium looks like a lat­ter-day con­fronta­tion be­tween David and Go­liath. Only ques­tion is, who’s who? An­drew Mar­tinez, Santa Fe’s firstyear head coach, thinks he knows.

“If you want to say ‘David ver­sus Go­liath,’ ” he said, “they’re Go­liath and we’re David.”

To un­der­stand how a school of 1,440 calls it­self the un­der­dog against an op­po­nent whose en­roll­ment is just 105, you have to un­der­stand the dis­tor­tion mir­ror that is high school sports — or more specif­i­cally, the di­lap­i­dated state of the once-proud Santa Fe foot­ball pro­gram.

The Demons’ prob­lems are well doc­u­mented. They’re on a 31-game los­ing streak and de­cided to play as an in­de­pen­dent, thus elim­i­nat­ing the re­quire­ment to com­pete in a dis­trict with larger schools.

In their own world, the Es­calante Lo­bos are ev­ery­thing the Demons are not. Es­calante is 7-0 this sea­son and ranked sec­ond in Class 2A. Their record since 2014 is 39-3, and the team won state cham­pi­onships in 2014 and 2015. These Lo­bos have prof­ited from the co­a­lesc­ing agent

of com­mu­nity pride in their feeder com­mu­ni­ties of Chama, Tierra Amar­illa, Los Ojos, Ce­bolla, Can­jilon and Ense­nada.

Des­per­ate to get his play­ers in a po­si­tion to win, Mar­tinez said the yawn­ing gap in size hasn’t been much of a con­ver­sa­tion starter.

“To tell the truth, no one has re­ally said any­thing or men­tioned it,” Mar­tinez said.

Still, the dif­fer­ence in num­bers is star­tling. This rep­re­sents the first time a school from the big­gest clas­si­fi­ca­tion in New Mex­ico has played the small­est since 1999, when thenClass 4A Es­pañola, also play­ing as an in­de­pen­dent, faced Class 1A Questa. At the time, there were just four clas­si­fi­ca­tions in the state.

Santa Fe High and Es­calante will line up against each other be­cause of the lo­gis­tics of the in­de­pen­dent Demons try­ing to fill a sched­ule. With high school teams head­ing into dis­trict play once the cal­en­dar turned to Oc­to­ber, the num­ber of schools Santa Fe High could ap­proach for a po­ten­tial game di­min­ished.

Es­calante had an open­ing be­cause one of its po­ten­tial Dis­trict 1-2A op­po­nents, Navajo Pine, dis­banded its foot­ball pro­gram this year, leav­ing the Lo­bos with just two dis­trict games.

“It be­came dif­fi­cult dur­ing this time of the year to get teams that are not in dis­trict play,” said Santa Fe Prin­ci­pal Carl Marano. “Es­calante is a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent, and they were just try­ing to sched­ule teams that had avail­abil­ity, too.”

For his part, Es­calante head coach Dusty Giles said he kept all op­tions on the ta­ble in form­ing his own sched­ule, but blanched at the thought of a long bus ride to South­ern New Mex­ico to find a game against a 2A or a 3A school. What was im­por­tant, how­ever, was find­ing a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent that could chal­lenge the Lo­bos as they pre­pare for the 2A state play­offs, which be­gin in three weeks.

“We needed some com­pe­ti­tion,” Giles said. “We weren’t go­ing to get it with­out hav­ing to drive six or seven hours to do it. Here, we got just a cou­ple of hours [to drive] and we get a su­per qual­ity op­po­nent. It’s a win-win for both schools.”

Well, Santa Fe High would sim­ply like to get a win. Part of the idea for play­ing as an in­de­pen­dent was to get a cou­ple of vic­to­ries and in­still some con­fi­dence into play­ers who have not ex­pe­ri­enced the sen­sa­tion since they were fresh­men. The hunt has been dif­fi­cult. Even with­out a dis­trict sched­ule, Santa Fe’s sched­ule is by no means filled with cup­cakes. The com­bined record of the Demons’ nine op­po­nents this sea­son is 38-20 head­ing into Fri­day’s game, and only one of those op­po­nents has a los­ing record.

Still, Mar­tinez saw a team that he felt could com­pete right away when he took over in Jan­uary af­ter spend­ing much of the past 17 years as the de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor at St. Michael’s, where he helped the Horse­men win three state ti­tles.

“Af­ter be­ing here in the sum­mer and see­ing the stu­dent-ath­letes that we had, I thought we could sneak up on some peo­ple,” Mar­tinez said. “Our coach­ing staff did, as well. We thought maybe we could win four or five games, maybe even seven, if things went well for us. But each week has proven to be a strug­gle.”

The same could be said for the decades that fol­lowed Santa Fe’s rise to promi­nence in the 1970s un­der head coach David Church, cul­mi­nat­ing in a mem­o­rable state cham­pi­onship in 1979. The open­ing of Cap­i­tal High School in 1988 si­phoned away some of the tal­ent from Santa Fe High, but the pall of a 37-game los­ing streak from 1991-94 that was the state record un­til Al­bu­querque High broke it in 2013 looms as large now as it did then.

Ray Hol­la­day, who guided the pro­gram from 2009 un­til last sea­son, said the hard­est ob­sta­cle to over­come dur­ing his time was the los­ing cul­ture that per­me­ated the school and made de­feat al­most a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy.

“We had 11 kids a day com­ing out in the sum­mer [for work­outs],” Hol­la­day re­mem­bered of the sum­mer of 2009.

For a time, things got bet­ter. Santa Fe High recorded its first non-los­ing sea­son in eight years in 2010 and won Dis­trict 2-4A ti­tles in 2012 and 2013.

“We steadily built the num­bers to where we had close to 85 to 90 kids out and stay­ing in foot­ball,” Hol­la­day said. “We had more than that for try­outs and we never cut any­one — we just lost them through at­tri­tion and them find­ing out that maybe this sport wasn’t for them.”

Hol­la­day said the pro­gram was close to crawl­ing out of the hole when the the school re­turned to the high­est clas­si­fi­ca­tion — in this case, 6A — and the NMAA placed it in Dis­trict 1-6A, with the likes of Rio Ran­cho, Rio Ran­cho Cleve­land and Al­bu­querque Vol­cano Vista. Those schools were among the six largest schools in the state by stu­dent en­roll­ment, all over 2,100 stu­dents, while Santa Fe High hov­ered around 1,500 stu­dents.

Hol­la­day ar­gued that the Demons just didn’t have the depth those larger pro­grams had to over­come in­juries that often oc­curred dur­ing the sea­son.

“How do you take a school of 1,400 or 1,500 kids and put us in the con­fer­ence where those schools have a dif­fer­ence of a thou­sand or 800 more kids?” Hol­la­day said.

Fast-for­ward to 2017: Mar­tinez said his big­gest chal­lenge as head coach has lit­tle to do with what hap­pens on the field. He finds him­self partly play­ing psy­chol­o­gist with his play­ers, and he has even brought in sports psy­chol­o­gists to talk to them.

“I’ve learned it takes an en­tire vil­lage and a cul­ture to change the men­tal per­spec­tive of a pro­gram,” Mar­tinez said. “… This is the hard­est I have ever coached in my en­tire life.”

In the Chama Val­ley, where the Lo­bos reign supreme and con­fi­dence is high, Giles said he doesn’t ex­pect to see a Demons team wal­low­ing in self-pity from all the los­ing.

“That tells me they want to get some wins and build that con­fi­dence and get into that pos­i­tive frame of mind,” he said.

Still, Giles said, he doesn’t ex­pect his play­ers will be struck by play­ing a much big­ger school.

“They have a his­tory of be­ing ex­tremely phys­i­cal and very small,” he said. “That’s how it’s been since they started play­ing foot­ball. It’s just born in these guys. Our guys aren’t in­tim­i­dated by any­body.”

Tonight’s game isn’t a one-time col­li­sion. Santa Fe and Es­calante agreed to play again in 2018, so the Demons will travel to Tierra Amar­illa to the Lo­bos’ red-turfed field.

For now, Mar­tinez might very well be right about his “David” as­sess­ment of his Demons against the Lo­bos.

He just didn’t ex­pect it to be that way.


ABOVE: The Santa Fe High Demons, shown here in a Sept. 8 game against Cap­i­tal, haven’t won any of their last 31 games. They play Es­calante, a school with an en­roll­ment of 105 on Fri­day night.


RIGHT: Es­calante gets ready to hike the ball against McCurdy on Satur­day. Es­calante, is un­de­feated in Class 2A.


The sec­ond quar­ter of Santa Fe High’s Oct. 6 game against Roswell at Ivan Head Sta­dium.

An­drew Mar­tinez, head coach of the Santa Fe High School foot­ball team, says the size dis­par­ity be­tween his Demons and the Es­calante Lo­bos hasn’t been a big talk­ing point.

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