Oct. 17—In games as close as Saturday afternoon's prep football tilt between two of the top prep football teams in Class 3A, little plays like the one Creed Chavez made late in the first quarter look a whole lot bigger when the clock runs out.
Same, too, with the one Devin Flores made in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
While we're at it, toss in the read of defensive back Jacob Katko in the waning moments to seal the deal.
When it was over, St. Michael's had escaped with a 13-12 win over visiting West Las Vegas in a District 2-3A showdown that may well prove to include a rematch in next month's playoffs. That was exactly the thought a handful of Dons fans had when walking off the field, shouting toward the Horsemen postgame huddle that they hadn't seen the last of one another.
"That's one of the reasons I didn't want my kids saying anything, because we might run into those guys again," said St. Michael's head coach Joey Fernandez.
The win keeps the Horsemen (7-1 overall, 2-0 in 2-3A) in the race for a district title — but it won't be easy getting there. Their final three regular season games are against three of the toughest teams 3A has to offer in West Las Vegas, Robertson (Friday in Las Vegas) and undefeated top-ranked Raton (two weeks from now in Santa Fe).
Beating West Las Vegas (6-2, 0-2) was a critical and necessary step in getting there. On Saturday, the Dons did everything they needed to to get the win — except get the points.
They outgained the Horsemen 252-135 in total offense, getting 100 yards on 32 carries from workhorse running back Damian Gallegos. The senior did most of his damage on hesitation runs where he'd take the handoff from 250-pound freshman quarterback CJ Perea and dance his way toward the line before bursting through.
His 100 yards put him over the 1,000-yard plateau in just eight games while Perea's 101 yards passing included a few clutch throws to keep the Dons moving in the second half.
All the little things.
St. Michael's scored just one offensive touchdown and went the second half without scoring. Their final eight drives saw them punt four times, get intercepted twice, turn it over on downs once and take a knee in the final minute to close things out.
It all makes the block Chavez made on a West Las Vegas player so big. With Flores fielding a punt late in the first quarter at his own 37, he looked to his left and saw Chavez lining up to take a would-be tackler out.
"It's one of those unspoken things, you know?" Flores said. "I know where Creed's going to be, and when I looked that way, I knew he'd be there to get that guy out of there."
The block — in truth, Chavez made two of them on that play — freed Flores before he reached midfield. As he broke free down the St. Michael's sideline, Chavez watched the play from the grass as everyone ran away from him.
"Coaches tell me that every block's key, so when I hit that second block, I knew he was gone," Chavez said. "I was just out there doing my job. Once that first one was done, I went out there and did the second one. The rest is up to them."
That touchdown made it 6-0, which West Las Vegas equalized on its next possession with an 11-play march ending in a Perea 5-yard keeper. Neither team hit their extra point.
The Horsemen got their only solid offensive drive immediately after West tied it. With one of the Dons' assistant coaches practically daring the Horsemen to throw the ball deep, St. Michael's quarterback Zachary Martinez did just that by lacing a perfect 36-yard pass down the sideline to Flores on fourth-and-7.
"Their coach was saying we won't be able to throw it long on them, but that's what we do," Fernandez said. "We're going to take those shots no matter who's doing the talking."
It was 13-6 at the half and stayed that way until Perea engineered another methodical drive that ended in a Gallegos 5-yard scoring run with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Dons elected to go for the 2-point try, which put Gallegos in a wildcat formation.
He ran to his right, getting forced to cut up field when Horsemen linebacker Gage Bass cut off the outside. That allowed Marcus Leyba to get just enough of his legs to allow Flores to come in with a hard hit that stopped Gallegos cold at the 2-yard-line.
"We all knew Damian was running it, so I cut back and just followed him," Flores said.
Flores was chasing the man in motion when the ball was snapped. He reversed course and rode Gallegos to the ground to keep his team in front.
The Dons had one final possession but Katko read Perea's eyes and broke off his coverage in the middle of the field, picking off the pass to put the game away.
Afterward, the Horsemen got dressed down for what the coaches said was a soft effort against a West Las Vegas team loaded with underclassmen who showed zero fear in facing one of the top teams in the state.
"We've got Robertson next week, so this better be a wake-up call for what we have to deal with," Fernandez said. "These are playoff teams and these are like playoff games. They have to be focused."
And, apparently, able to do the little things.
West Las Vegas dominated time of possession, holding a 29:16 to 18:44 advantage. ... Martinez had his stiffest test as the new St. Michael's QB. He completed just 6 of 19 passes and was picked off twice. He also nearly had a disastrous fumble inside his own 5-yard-line in the closing moments, but he recovered and the Horsemen were able to punt the ball away. ... Gallegos had 16 carries in each half and had more rushing attempts than the entire Horsemen offense (21 rushes for 53 yards). ... St. Michael's visits Robertson (6-2, 1-1) this week and will host Raton (9-0, 3-0) the following week.