Elks hold on, drop Dons

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By Dave Kavanaugh

On the first play from scrimmage Saturday, Pojoaque Valley quarterback John Ainsworth dashed 67 yards for a touchdown against the visiting West Las Vegas Dons.

That play may have set the tone for the afternoon, but it was the Elks’ stingy defense that carried through in a 33-24 verdict that sent the Dons to their fifth consecutive defeat.

Ainsworth rushed for triple-digit yardage, with 84 coming in the first half, and his arm made him a bonafide option threat throughout the game.

Still, West held a slim lead until things went awry late in the second quarter.

After Ainsworth's long scoring run, the Dons forced two turnovers — an interception by Stephen Urioste and a fumble recovery by Thomas Salinas. The former led to a Dons punt. The latter, however, led to paydirt.

Salinas’ recovery came at the Elks’ 12-yard line. West fullback Andy Gabaldon covered most of the distance on a 7-yard run, and a couple plays later quarterback Jose Juan Montaño finished, scoring a goal-line touchdown. He repeated the feat for a 2-point conversion that lifted West to an 8-7 edge with 11:39 left in the second quarter.

A couple series later, West fumbled the ball away and Pojoaque had it at the WLV 20. But Julio Vigil and Lucas Rodriguez made a big stop on third-and-short, and the Elks ended up turning the ball over on downs.

Then it was Pojoaque’s turn again. The Elks held on defense, then blocked the ensuing punt and took over at the WLV 17 with 3:45 left in the half.

After a 12-yard toss to Isaac Urioste, Ainsworth ran it in himself from the West 5 to reclaim the lead for Pojoaque.

Freshman Jordan Martinez came through with an interception later in the period, but it was another Dons turnover that made more of a difference. A West fumble led to a 21-yard Ainsworth-to-Brian Koller TD strike and a 21-8 halftime margin.

Ainsworth didn't cool off for intermission, either. He bombed West with two third-quarter TDs, the latter on a fourth-and-five toss to Jesse Gomez that wound up going 40 yards to paydirt.

Already up 33-8, Ainsworth appeared ready for yet another touchdown a few minutes later. Anthony Medina’s stop had made it fourth-and-short, but the Pojo QB picked up the first down inside the Dons 10. Then the West pass rush came up huge, and a hurry by Josh Hidalgo forced Ainsworth to scramble and throw an incompletion on the next fourth down. West took over on downs.

Montaño’s long pass to Jesse Salazar-Navarette got the Dons into scoring range.

Montaño chased that play with a 7-yard QB keeper up the middle for a touchdown, then hit Rodriguez for a 2-point conversion. That cut the lead to 33-16 with 6:00 left.

The Dons defense held Pojoaque to another turnover on downs, and Montaño reached the end zone on the strength of two long pass plays — one to Nathan Vigil and the other to Jorge Gallardo on a 40-yard bomb. For the third time in as many attempts, West converted a 2-pointer to make it 33-24 with 1:42 remaining.

That would end up as the final score.

West (0-5, 0-1) returns home for a non-district game against Laguna-Acoma on Friday.