Sunday, September 6, 2009

Santa Fe High struggles in loss to Rio Grande

Geoff Grammer The New Mexican
9/5/2009 - 9/6/09

ALBUQUERQUE — The Santa Fe High Demons must have felt like Charles Dickens had a hand in writing the script for Saturday's 21-8 loss to Albuquerque Rio Grande at Milne Stadium.

On one hand, 14-year-old sophomore quarterback Jason Fitzpatrick showed glimpses of a bright future with a cannon of an arm and as much athleticism as anyone on the field.

But the ghosts of Demons football past also showed up, creating enough doubt in the minds of the young team to cause mental lapses and stall a pair of drives inside the 10-yard line without scoring.

As a result, the Demons' present state is one filled with the frustrating reality that rebuilding the program and overcoming two decades of futility will be a long process.

"The ghosts from the past creep into your mind," said Santa Fe High head coach Ray Holladay. "We've got 20 years of crap we're trying to fight through. ... They're always back there. You just got to learn to close the door on them."

Holladay set several goals for the team this season, including starting 2-1 (the Demons are now 0-2) and to make the state playoffs for the first time in 23 years.

After a 56-7 loss last week at Class AAAA powerhouse Aztec, Santa Fe High was still confident it could beat a Rio Grande team that lost 55-0 last week to Albuquerque La Cueva.

"We forgot about it," Fitzpatrick said of the Aztec loss. "We moved on. ... We thought we had a good game plan coming in here this week; it just didn't work out for us."

The frustration was evident early Saturday. Santa Fe High senior Isaac Fairchild returned the opening kickoff to the Rio Grande 38-yard line, setting up a drive to the Rio Grande 4 before turning the ball over on a failed fourth-down conversion.

"We score on that opening drive," Holladay said, "(and) I've got a feeling this is a different game."

But the Demons didn't and their offense sputtered for much of the first half, getting just two first downs — one rushing, and one on one of 16 Rio Grande penalties. A major cause of the anemic offense was five dropped passes in the half, giving Fitzpatrick a stat line of 3-for-11 for 6 yards and an interception to end the half.

"It does (get frustrating)," Fitzpatrick admitted, "but it's all reps. We have good receivers that always catch the ball. We just didn't have the confidence (we needed)."

The Demons defense was inconsistent against the misdirection running attack of Rio Grande's single-wing offense, allowing 257 rushing yards on 38 carries.

Ravens sophomore running back Dru Lundval rattled off 20 carries for 121 yards and a 2-yard touchdown run with 3 minutes, 40 seconds left in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead.

Rio Grande got the ball back and used a double-reverse flea flicker, setting up quarterback Mike Sanchez with a wide open Jaylen Spraggins on a 37-yard touchdown pass for 14-0 with 11 seconds left before halftime.

Santa Fe High took its opening drive of the third quarter inside the Rio Grande 10, thanks to a 53-yard strike from Fitzpatrick to wideout Jared Milliorn.

The drive could get no closer than the 6 before the Demons again turned the ball over on downs.

"We got down to the end zone, and we just couldn't execute when we got there," Fitzpatrick said.

Rio Grande's Xavier Aragon punched in an 8-yard touchdown with :55 left in the game to make it 21-0 before Santa Fe High finally capitalized on a trip inside the red zone.

Fitzpatrick led a six-play drive, hitting Milliorn for a 7-yard touchdown strike with nine seconds remaining.

A Mike Dean 2-point conversion run capped the scoring.

The late score gave the Demons something to build on for the future, but the postgame message coming from the locker room was one uttered all too often over the past 23 years.

"(We have to) just keep going forward," Fitzpatrick said, "and forget about the past because there is nothing we can do about it."
The Santa Fe New Mexican
P.O. Box 2048
Santa Fe, NM 87504-2048

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