Emmanuel Lewis threw for four touchdowns — two of them in a 21-point second quarter surge for the Cowboys — and New Mexico Highlands surprised No. 18 nationally ranked Colorado School of Mines on a sunny Saturday at Perkins Stadium.
Highlands never trailed in the football game but had to weather a late charge by the Orediggers, who put up 13 points in the final 10 minutes to whittle an 18-point deficit to five.
Close or not, it’s a signature win for the Cowboys and head coach Eric Young, off to a 3-1 start overall and a 2-0 record in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
NMHU opened well, as Vincent Venegas tore downfield on the opening play from scrimmage for a 76-yard touchdown rush.
The Orediggers answered a few minutes later when quarterback Matt Brown punched in from a yard away to end an 11-play, 75-yard march.
The score stayed 7-7 into the second period.
Young and his staff lined up the versatile, athletic middle linebacker Jordan Campbell as a tailback on the end of an extended Highlands drive, and he plowed into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown with 11:51 left in the first half.
Campbell’s duties as an ad lib running back are not unprecedented; he had several carries in short-yardage and goal-line situations last season. In this case, however, Campbell was inserted several yards away from the goal line and rushed up the middle repeatedly until he found paydirt.
Mines tied the contest once more — this time at 14 all — when Brown hooked up with Diamond Gillis for a 34-yard score with exactly 10 minutes left in the second quarter.
But Lewis, whose air attack was again a staple for the Cowboys, was just getting warmed up.
He found John Webster from 11 yards out for a go-ahead touchdown with 2:26 left, then hit Trent Hicks for a 44-yard strike with 1:15 to go before halftime.
Both scoring drives were set up by Cowboy interceptions, one apiece by Abdul Kanneh and Montel Morris.
Ah, yes, the defense.
DiAmaal Holmes led a spirited effort, collecting 18 tackles and forcing one of two Oredigger fumbles. Jared Koster had nine stops — two for loss — before being ejected by game officials for foul language.
Defense was a mixed bag for NMHU. The Cowboys allowed Brown and the Orediggers 601 passing yards but held them to 31 on the ground.
That’s not to say Brown had free rein under center. The Cowboys maintained an aggressive pass rush that resulted in six sacks and multiple hurries. Notably, Mines was five for 13 on third down.
Highlands, on the other hand, was eight for 16.
Lewis finished 25 of 45 for 435 yards and four TDs.
Darius Davis caught a team-high eight passes for 171 yards. Kevon Williams had seven for 99 yards and an important TD that came with 13:07 left in the game. That score made it 42-24, providing enough of a cushion to survive Mines’ late charge.
With 5:19 remaining, Mines kicker Avery Llewellyn — who’d nailed a 45-yard field goal earlier in the half —missed a 29-yarder that would’ve cut the margin to eight points.
Venegas had 88 yards on nine carries, most on the game-opening scamper.
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Homecoming revelry at West Las Vegas — including a string of class reunions — served up plenty of fun for the school’s alumni this past weekend.
But the portion of it allocated to the WLV football game on Friday night at the newly revamped Herrera Complex had to be cut short.
Ruidoso asserted itself as a bonafide top-five team in the state with a 55-0 win over the Dons in a contest that was called at halftime due to New Mexico Activities Association rules.
The Warriors scored on a pass play to reach the 50-point marcy-rule threshold with 1:48 left in the first half, leaving West one last chance to reduce that spread and keep the game going into the second half. The Dons had a decent two-minute drill drive, aided by a pass interference penalty when the Warriors busted up Jose Juan Montaño’s lob intended for Jake Ulibarri. But the drive ended on an incompletion on fourth down, and the game came to a close at the half.
West crowned its homecoming royalty as scheduled during the halftime that was transformed into a postgame ceremony.
Ruidoso set the scene early, returning the opening kickoff all the way to the WLV 38-yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, a 15-yard personal foul penalty advanced the Warriors deep into Dons territory, and a 4-yard rushing touchdown soon followed.
After Ruidoso forced a quick three-and-out series, the Warriors blocked the ensuing punt, then recovered it in the end zone for another quick touchdown. With less than three full minutes elapsed, the visitors led 14-0.
It was 21-0 before the Dons mounted a promising drive onto the Warrior half of the field. Ulibarri led the march, gaining good yardage and helping West reach the Ruidoso 44. But that is where the drive stalled and the Warriors took over on downs.
Fabian Lujan and Joshua Hidalgo made key tackles to seemingly stuff the Warriors’ next drive, but Ruidoso converted on fourth-and-short to keep its offense on the field. Moments later — assisted by a roughing-the-passer call — the Warriors struck again, grabbing a 28-0 cushion before the first quarter came to a close.
The Dons had other moments, such as Ulibarri’s well-blocked kickoff return to near midfield midway through the second quarter, a recovered fumble a few minutes later followed by Adrian Valdez’s rush into Ruidoso territory.
But between untimely penalties, turnovers and the big plays delivered by the Warriors, West couldn’t keep up on this night.
The Dons and coach Robert Alarcon will try to break into the win column this coming Saturday at Pojoaque Valley.
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Across town, Robertson football didn’t fare much better, falling 54-2 to the No. 1 rated team in Class 3A football, St. Michael’s.
That game was called midway through the fourth quarter.
The lone Cardinal score came on a strong defensive play early in the second period. Nathan Archuleta led a charge and got to the Horsemen quarterback for a sack in his own end zone. That cut St. Mike’s lead to 27-2.
The ensuing safety kickoff was then returned by Dominic Lucero to the RHS 49-yard line.
But the Horsemen forced a three-and-out to avoid further damage.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty cost Robertson valuable field position early on, and St. Mike’s scored after getting a first-and-goal from the RHS 1.
Another such flag led to Santo Coppola’s touchdown and a 14-0 score with 6:58 left in the quarter.
Horseman running back Salomon Martinez took advantage of a Cardinal fumble for a TD just half a minute later.
The spread was 27-0 at the end of the first quarter.
Later in the second, a Lucero run gave Robertson a first down at the Horseman 16, but that drive was cut short. An interception return and extra point made it 34-2 with 4:21 remaining in the half.
Lucero again made a big play, running 60 yards to the Horseman 30. Archuleta picked up another 12 yards and a first down at the St. Mike’s 18.
But another fumble on a botched exchange led to a Horseman score and 41-2 halftime margin, triggering a running clock that would haunt the Cardinals through the rest of the game, limiting the time needed to catch up.
Shawn Carrasco made an 18-yard reception to the RHS 5 early in the final period, and that set up Martinez’s 5-yard TD run to make it 48-2.
The backbreaker came on a punt return score.
• • •
West Las Vegas’ volleyball team wrapped up its three-day run at the Santa Fe Tournament of Champions with a narrow loss to Santa Fe Indian School in the third-place match of the Silver bracket.
The Lady Dons won the first game 25-15 before the Lady Braves got even 25-21 in game two. West won the third 25-21 but lost the fourth 25-13. In the fifth set, SFIS prevailed 15-8.
• • •
Following a 6-1 romp at Pojoaque this past Wednesday, Robertson girls’ soccer lost 5-3 at Socorro on Saturday.
Caitlin Diefendorf scored two goals and Elena Martinez had one for the Lady Cardinals.
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NMHU volleyball split a weekend homestand against RMAC rivals Western State Colorado and Adams State.
The Cowgirls defeated WSCU 25-19, 22-25, 25-20, 25-18 on Friday night at the Wilson Complex.
Marina Samoa registered 11 kills and 13 digs, both team highs. Rae Mulitalo set up 35 assists. Andrea Nunez had nine kills and six digs.
Katie Saavedra added 12 digs to send the Mountaineers to 1-10 overall and 0-3 in league play.
But Adams State, hitting .233 for the match, swept Highlands on Saturday evening by scores of 25-19, 25-18, 25-20.
The Grizzly women, who got 10 kills from Letisha Spencer and nine from Megan Tapia, are 11-1 and 4-0. Gabriella Rifilato, daughter of former NMHU football coach Ed Rifilato, recorded 35 assists for Adams, currently the No. 25 team in NCAA Division II volleyball.
NMHU’s Stephanie Wilson hit with .500 accuracy for a team-best nine kills to go with two solo blocks and four digs.
The Cowgirls are 6-7 overall and 2-2 in the RMAC.
• • •
Highlands’ women couldn’t find the net in a 3-0 loss at Colorado Mesa on Friday in Grand Junction, Colo.
Mesa struck in the third minute with Kaitlynn Holte turning Daniela Salinas’ cross pass into a goal. Sarah Pope assisted Kelci Crispe on the next two goals, one in the 17th minute and the other in the 80th as the second half wound down.
Cowgirl forwards Marci Johnson and Kelsie Roberts each had three shots on goal to no avail, with Lady Mavs keeper Sarah Schnetzler stopping all six shots.
Going into Sunday’s scheduled match at Colorado School of Mines, NMHU was 2-5, 0-3; Mesa is 5-0-2, 2-0-1.
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The Cardinal boys’ soccer team, which rolled over host Pojoaque Valley 5-1 last week, will host Class 5A Clovis on Tuesday afternoon.
For more on the weekend that was, see Wednesday’s Optic.