WEB EXCLUSIVE — Game of the Week: No celebration for Los Lunas High despite homecoming win

........................................................................................................................................................................................

LOS LUNAS – The mood following Friday night’s homecoming game between the host Los Lunas Tigers and Albuquerque St. Pius X was not celebratory, despite LLHS’ domineering 55-27 win over the Sartans at Willie Chavez Field.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: SENIOR JACOB HOLLAND leaps high to catch pass during Los Lunas High's 55-27 homecoming win over Albuquerque St. Pius X Friday night

“The positive is (this was) a win – a win is a win is a win,” said a subdued coach Duane Toliver following the win.

“But that’s not the way we want to win,” he concluded.

Senior running back Jalen Chavez scored three first half touchdowns and sophomore quarterback Anthony Sanchez threw three touchdown passes, two of them to senior receiver Jacob Holland. The Tigers racked up 451 yards of total offense and the “Orange Crush” defense forced seven St. Pius turnovers in the win, which moved LLHS to 4-1 on the season.

But LLHS’ 35-0 halftime lead was diminished by a pair of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls called on the Tigers during their point-after attempt right before halftime – one on Chavez that caused Toliver to bench his star running back for the entire second half.

“We were moving the ball well, distributing it well, doing what we needed to do,” said Toliver of the first half performance. “Unfortunately we let some bad coaching hurt our momentum.”

After halftime, the Sartans scored 21 unanswered points, throwing Los Lunas and its homecoming crowd into a frenzy of concern before the Tigers came back, using a short field to mount a drive that ended when Holland caught a pass from Sanchez and dodged five defenders to score a 23-yard touchdown to start the fourth quarter and give Los Lunas a 42-21 advantage that broke St. Pius’ spell.

Despite the successes, Los Lunas coach Duane Toliver took the extraordinary measure of pulling his first team offense and defense from the game with 10:45 left in the fourth quarter and the game still in the balance.

“Attitude reflects leadership,” Toliver said. “They have a bad attitude, that’s bad leadership on me.

“We didn’t respond to adversity very well and that still comes down to the head coach,” he said.

Responding to a question of whether the St. Pius players may have goaded his players into their multiple unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, Toliver was succinct.

“That’s the easy way out and we’re better than that,” he said. “I coach them to be better than that and I’ll do a better job making them understand what I expect of them.”

Senior Darron Gallegos said the Tigers didn’t respond well to the calls that went against them in the game, especially in the third quarter.

“We were losing our heads there, getting upset,” he said. “We need to start focusing on the next play, because some of our players are getting upset with themselves. We need to start working better with adversity.”

Despite the breakdowns in discipline in the second half and to finish the first half, the Tigers were still stellar on both sides of the ball. Sanchez finished 20-of-34 passing with 258 yards with one interception and Chavez ran for 134 yards on just eight carries. And the defense held St. Pius to just 207 yards on offense, with most of their yardage coming in the second half.

Holland, who hadn’t played since the Tigers’ opening win over Alamogordo, returned Friday night and caught 10 passes for 171 yards. Holland, who was reportedly on suspension according to a report in the Albuquerque Journal, made two big plays in the fourth quarter providing the impulse that helped Los Lunas to extinguish St. Pius’ comeback attempt with his two fourth quarter catches.

Following the game, the team and coaches spent nearly 40 minutes sequestered in the Los Lunas field house before players and coaches began exiting. Neither Holland or Chavez left through the main entrance of the field house and so were unavailable for comment following the game.

Los Lunas’ back-up quarterback, junior Ryan Kline, drove the Tigers for their final offensive drive and capped it with a 4-yard TD run and senior Randy Moore picked off a St. Pius pass with just over a minute left to play and returned it for the final touchdown of the game. Senior Chris Sanchez also had a touchdown catch and had five catches for 76 yards.

St. Pius (3-2) was led by sophomore quarter back Emilio Arellano throwing for 144 yards on 16-of-32 passing with one touchdown and four interceptions.