The No. 4 West Las Vegas Dons have their biggest game of the year on Saturday, not only because it is the next game, but because it’s on the road against No. 2 St. Michael’s. This game is an opportunity to get the first district win of the season for the Dons. In their lone district contest to date against No. 1 Raton on Oct. 1, they fell 14-7 to the Tigers. After a bounceback victory last week against No. 8 Dexter, the Dons feel ready for the task that lies in front of them with the Horsemen.
“It’s St. Mike’s, year in and year out they’re one of the top programs in 3A,” head coach Adrian Gonzales said. “They’re always going to be ready to play, it’s always going to be a tough challenge going against them.”
The Dons are a young football team, at this point in the year they’ve experienced quite a bit, but as recently two weeks ago that may not have been the case. The game against Raton was their first really big contest of the season. There was a lot of hype around the matchup of unbeatens, and coach Gonzales feels his team might have gotten caught up in the moment a little too much and was not focused on executing. They now have that big game experience, and he expects it to show against the Horsemen on Saturday afternoon.
“It helps with nerves, having played a game of that magnitude already,” Gonzales said. “We had a lot of kids who hadn’t played varsity football before and have not experienced that type of atmosphere or big game feel, but with that under our belt it should bode well with how we go into that game.”
This game can also be viewed as something of a dress rehearsal for the playoffs. When you think of high school football the first words that come to almost anybody’s mind is Friday night lights. But in New Mexico, playoff games are on Saturday afternoons. Up to this point in the season the Dons have played all of their contests on either Thursday or Friday night. Now they get their first game on a Saturday afternoon, a time slot they will need to get used to winning in if they want to achieve their ultimate goal of a state championship. They get their first crack at doing it this week.
For the Dons, their key is their offense. They have scored at least 34 points in every game this season except for one, the one game that they lost. Any conversation about the offense starts with senior running back Damian Gallegos, who has accumulated over 1,400 yards of total offense this season and has scored 32 touchdowns. Last week against Dexter, the Dons featured Gallegos in a new capacity, as a receiver, where he racked up six catches for 101 yards and three touchdowns in the absence of junior wide receiver Jaydin Vigil, to go along with the 149 yards and two touchdowns he had rushing. Vigil is coming back this week, and for freshman quarterback CJ Perea he will have his full complement of weapons available.
For as good as the Dons’ running game is, the key to this matchup could very well be the passing game. The Dons are more than capable of throwing the ball effectively, Perea has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in the state, completing 73 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns to just four interceptions. With the return of Vigil and the emergence of senior receiver Josh Gonzales in recent weeks, the Dons seem to have all the pieces in place to be able to throw the football should St. Michael’s focus too much on Gallegos and the running game.
On defense the Dons have improved massively during the season. Coach Gonzales has talked about wanting to get all three phases of the game on the same level as they approach the end of the regular season and the postseason. The defense is beginning to come around, and this week they’ll get a chance to show their physicality against a tough Horsemen rushing attack. On both sides of the ball the Horsemen are big and physical, and for the Dons to win they will need to match that physicality.
There is a lot at stake in this contest. The Horsemen are very much in the running for the district title, controlling their own destiny in that regard, and the Dons have the opportunity over the next three weeks to potentially earn a first round bye in the postseason. This is a brutal district that will likely see four teams reach the postseason, and if any of the teams in this district are to win the state championship, they know that the road to the blue trophy will likely have them play district opponents again in the postseason.
“If you’re able to go and beat St. Mike’s you know that you’re one of the top teams,” Gonzales said. “You know that you belong and you’re one of the teams that the state title is going to go through. Our district is brutal, and every test prepares us for the playoffs.”
This is a game for both teams to prove to themselves that they can beat a state championship caliber team, and for the Dons to get their first district win of the season.