Goddard running back Devon Quiroz follows his blocker straight into the end zone for a touchdown during the Rockets’ 31-28 defeat to Class 6A Piedra Vista Friday night at the Wool Bowl. (Shawn Naranjo Photo)
The Goddard Rocket football team suffered a heart-wrenching defeat in their home opener Friday night at the Wool Bowl against Piedra Vista 31-28, after the Panthers’ 6-foot-4 Jason Compton caught a jump-ball pass in the corner of the end zone for a game-winning touchdown with just seven seconds to play.
Goddard head coach Chris White says it ultimately came down to a lack of execution for his squad in the fourth quarter, not just on the special teams miscue on fourth down that set Piedra Vista up at the Rockets 9-yard line with 22 seconds remaining, but on a number of offensive drives before that, too.
“We really had a couple of series before that where we had our chances to put the game away,” White said. “We just needed to move the sticks and didn’t get it done. We just didn’t get it done when we needed to.”
But just as the even-keeled head coach wasn’t going to throw a celebration after the Rockets’ huge win in their season opener, White wasn’t prepared to throw a pity party after coming up just short against one of the toughest Class 6A teams anywhere in New Mexico.
“I still feel like my kids gave good effort and played hard,” White said. “Just some [auth] technical things that we can definitely clean up and will clean up.
“We’re going to fix the things we need to fix and move on from it. We’re not going to dwell on the past or be negative and things like that. We’ll just coach ‘em up and move on.”
After the Rockets (1-1) went three-and-out on their initial possession, the Panthers had great field position, starting at their own 48.
Goddard’s Kobe Ramage put a big hit on Panther quarterback Elijah Gamboa on the first play to set a physical tone that would last for rest of the game.
Two plays later, Goddard’s Misael Zaragoza recovered a PV fumble and the Rockets were officially in business.
Those first two possessions were the only times either defense came up with a stop until late in third quarter.
Folowing Zaragoza’s recovery, Cameron Stevenson threw a beautiful scoring strike to Diego Miranda from 37 yards out to stake the Rockets to an early 7-0 lead.
The 6A Panthers answered with an 11-play 69-yard touchdown drive of their own to tie it up at 7-7. Piedra Vista (2-0) converted twice on third downs during the drive.
The Rockets wasted little time in regaining the lead as senior Devon Quiroz scampered in from five yards out to cap a relatively short 55-yard drive. The Rockets also converted twice on third down to keep that particular drive alive.
Both teams scored twice in the second quarter. The Panthers used two big catches from Compton to drive 53 yards in another 11-play effort.
The Rockets answered by chewing up the rest of the quarter on a 16-play 70-yard drive. Goddard converted twice on fourth down with runs from Quiroz. The senior running back eventually scored from a yard out with 17 seconds to go to make it 21-14 at the half.
The offensive fireworks continued in the second half as the Panthers opening the scoring in the third quarter with a 38-yard field goal to cut the lead to 21-17.
But the Rocket tandem of Stevenson and Miranda connected again just three plays later, this time from 64 yards out to push Goddard’s lead to 28-17.
The defenses finally took over for the next few possessions on both sides and the normally potent Rocket offense struggled the rest of the way, not picking up another first down for the remainder of the game.
The Panthers cut the lead to 28-24 less than a minute into the final quarter, after a time-consuming 14-play 80-yard drive. Once again, it was Compton coming up with a 23-yard catch to keep the drive alive.
The Rocket defense did come up big late in the fourth quarter to keep its slim lead intact as Dalton Bowles grabbed two interceptions – the first at the Rocket 24-yard line with 4:54 to go, and the second came at the 14-yard line with 1:34 to go.
Unfortunately, the Rocket offense couldn’t get a first down or chew up the clock after either turnover and were forced to punt deep from within in their territory with 26 seconds remaining to go.
Then, a special teams miscue between the long snapper and the punter gave the Panthers the ball at the 9-yard line with only 14 seconds to go and the Panthers needed just two plays to shock the hometown fans and escape the Wool Bowl with the 31-28 victory.
Long-time Rocket enthusiasts may see some resemblance in the 2009 Goddard – Alamogordo game which was also the second game of that season. A similar miscue gave the visitors a shocking late win. The Rockets would go on to win the state title that year.
The Rockets can only hope for similar results for the 2016 campaign.
Next week, the Rockets travel to Carlsbad for a game with the Cavemen. The Rockets are in the midst of four straight games against 6A squads, but White says these games will help prepare his team for a tough district schedule, and ultimately the postseason.
“This is a stretch right here, where, coming in we knew we’d be tested,” White said. “So it’s an uphill battle but that game is behind us and we’ll get ready for Carlsbad.
“And once we get to district we know we’ll have some tough battles there, so we just have to kind of use these games and get better. And we will.”