Eagles hang with Rockets for most of first half in semifinal loss


A lot of things can happen to a football team over the course of a 10-game season, and then into the playoffs.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Challenging the Rockets are quarterback Eliseo Aguirre, center, with Wyatt Robinson, left, and Christian Aragon, right, leading the blocking. Belen lost to Goddard, 35-7, in the Class 4A state semifinal at the Wool Bowl in Roswell Friday night, ending their season with a 9-3 record.

For Belen, the unthinkable happened the week before they were to take on Goddard at the Wool Bowl in Roswell for a berth into the Class 4A state championship game.

The Eagles had to go without the services of sophomore quarterback and, maybe more importantly, punter, Chris Peralta. Goddard had great field position all night and won 35-7 over an outmatched, but feisty, Belen crew.

Peralta was unable to play, reportedly due to concussion-like symptoms discovered during the week of practice prior to the semifinal game against the Rockets.

Goddard (11-0) will travel to Valencia County on Friday to take on Los Lunas (12-0) at LLHS. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Belen finishes it season at 9-3 with two losses to Goddard and a 40-0 loss to Los Lunas. It was the fourth time in five years that Belen made the semifinals with one state championship game appearance, a 28-21 loss to Goddard in 2009.

Senior Eliseo Aguirre took the reigns as quarterback Friday, and felt the pressure from the Rockets’ big defensive line all night. The scrappy quarterback did his best to avoid the rush and the Belen defense played a remarkable game through most of the first half.

With Goddard only ahead 7-0 with under two minutes to play in the first half, it looked as if the Eagles would be able to regroup at the break.

Rocket back Dean McDaniel raced around the right end for 35 yards to set the Rockets up at the Belen 13-yard line. It was only seconds later that the sophomore back found paydirt from the four-yard line.

Kelsey Cunningham kicked the extra point and Goddard led 14-0 at halftime.

Andrew Castillo’s kick to start the second half sailed deep into the waiting hands of Anthony Ornelas at the 12-yard line. He faked to the right and jutted left to get beyond the initial Belen wave of tacklers. That was all the speedy back would need. He scampered 88 yards down the left sideline to make it 21-0 Goddard.

“What hurt us was the kickoff return to start off the second half,” said a disappointed coach John Lerma after the game. “Their defense is one of the best defenses in the state. Los Lunas has another defense that is equivalent to them. I am very proud of our seniors this year. They provided a lot of leadership for us. In my book, they went out as winners.”

Goddard got two more touchdowns, both on 15-yard runs from Cody French, in the third quarter to make it 35-0 and put the game under a running clock.

Belen was able to score after Castillo recovered a fumble and returned it to the Goddard 22-yard line. The touchdown came as Aguirre was hit near the gaol line, fumbled into the end zone and lineman Christian Aragon fell on the ball for the score.

Katilyn D’Arcangeli added the extra point but Belen never saw the ball again as Goddard ran out the final 3:26 after the Eagle score.

“It was a good year,” said Lerma. “To have the year that we have had with all of the obstacles and road blocks we have had, you can’t help but love these kids.”

Through tears, the senior quarterback described how it was to go against one the best defenses in the state with only four days of practice at quarterback.

“It was pretty rough,” said Aguirre. “I didn’t have that much time. I just gave it my all, but these guys are really good. I think my teammates gave everything they had. At the end of the day, it came down to who wanted it more. I have no doubt that my teammates gave every ounce of energy.”

Lerma noted that Aguirre performed well under short notice, when it was discovered on Tuesday that Peralta would not be able to play.

“(Peralta) got his bell rung in the Deming game, and we did not realize how bad it was,” said Lerma. “He was fine. Then, Monday, in practice, he hit the turf and that is when he started showing symptoms. When you lose your first two quarterbacks and are down to your third, well … ,” said Lerma, his voice trailing, perhaps considering what might have been.

“Eliseo did a fine job filling in,” was the final thought from Lerma.

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