Jags show promise vs. one of 4A’s top teams

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If the Valencia High football team is only a few big plays away from creating a competitive game against a storied opponent such as Artesia, imagine what the Jaguars could do without eight penalties, four turnovers and a few more pass-defense plays.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Valencia’s Marcos Griego, center, reaches for Gavino Saiz as Andrew Yamamoto, right, closes in. VHS lost 49-14 to the Bulldogs, and will play Atrisco Heritage at 7 p.m. Thursday at Milne Stadium.

Those are some of the “what-ifs” on the minds of Valencia High fans after last Friday’s 49-16 home loss to Artesia. The loss made Valencia 0-3 for the first time since 2008, and makes it an uphill battle for the Jags going into their 7 p.m. game Thursday against Atrisco Heritage Academy at Albuquerque’s Milne Stadium.

“I saw a huge improvement from last week (a loss to Rio Grande) and this week,” said Valencia’s first-year head coach, Kevin Jolley. “We are at a disadvantage as far as preparation time, with a junior varsity game on Tuesday (Sept. 11) and again this Monday, so we haven’t had everyone together very often. But the kids are showing a lot of heart out there, and we will persevere.”

The visiting Bulldogs (3-0), who have won 27 state championships, crushed Lovington and Hobbs in their first two games. They moved the ball almost at will against the Jaguars, especially through the air, but made an uncharacteristic amount of unforced errors, and the Valencia front line made some big plays to keep the game interesting.

Artesia quarterback Drew Houghtaling started in place of injured starter Trevor Eullenbach. He threw for two first-quarter scores, and the Bulldogs led 14-0 after one quarter and 28-9 at halftime.

Josh Burbank scored on a 63-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. The hold wasn’t clean on the point-after kick, however, so Valencia trailed 14-6.

A 20-yard scoring run and another TD pass by Houghtaling put Artesia up 28-6. Valencia starting quarterback led a penalty-aided drive just before the half that ended with a 20-yard Caleb Crum field goal.

Two second-half Houghtaling touchdown passes and a 9-yard run put the Bulldogs in the mercy-rule, running-clock zone in the fourth quarter. Houghtaling completed 25-of-33 passes for 343 yards with no interceptions and five touchdowns.

The Bulldogs might have put up more points, were it not for 86 yards in penalties.

Valencia junior Trase Peperas scored from one yard out on 4th-and-goal with 47.6 seconds left in the game, with Crum making the extra point.

The Jags finished with 216 rushing yards, and while they had eight penalties, it only cost them 37 yards — but often at terrible times.

Burbank, a sophomore, had 88 rushing yards for Valencia. Junior quarterback Anthony Gonzales, in his first start, rushed for 47 yards and was 2-of-4 passing for 27 yards, with no interceptions (receiver Santiago Ibuado threw VHS’ only interception on a trick play).

Ibuado and fellow senior Andrew Yamamoto served as team captains for Friday’s game. Jolley said he chooses captains on a weekly, rather than a seasonal, basis.

VHS junior Estevan Gallegos made some plays on both sides of the ball before leaving late in the first half with a knee injury. He hopes to return sooner than sophomore Nate Nash, whose concussion suffered in the Rio Grande game is so severe, he might miss the entire season.

The Jags are set to play their final pre-district game at Farmington High on Sept. 28, followed by a bye week. Jolley said the three losses are not something he takes lightly.

“It makes me sick to my stomach,” he said. “There are a lot of kids out there that really want to do the right things.”


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.