LLHS runs out of time against rough Rockets

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The Los Lunas Tigers faced two relentless opponents Friday night in the state semifinal game at the Wool Bowl — the Goddard Rockets and time.

Los Lunas rallied from a 28-0 halftime deficit in the final quarter-and-a-half of play, but eventually both the Rockets and the game clock got away from the Tigers as Goddard claimed a 35-28 victory, eliminating the Tigers in the Class 4A State Playoffs at the Wool Bowl.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS’ CHRIS SANCHEZ (14) is tackled by a trio of Goddard defenders during the Tigers 35-28 loss in the Class 4A State Playoffs Friday in Roswell.

The Rockets scored on three of their first four possessions, while causing an early Los Lunas fumble at the Goddard goal line that set the tone for a frustrating first half for the Tigers.

“I thought we did some good things,” said LLHS coach Duane Toliver. “We just couldn’t get anything consistent. We had our opportunities. We came out after halftime and our boys just kept on fighting.”

Los Lunas (9-3) rebounded after halftime, out-scoring the Rockets 28-7 in the last 14 minutes of the game, but were unable to complete the comeback.

“Our boys got an inch and just ran with it,” Toliver said of the comeback. “They never gave up. We just ran out of time.”

The Rockets cruised to a 21-0 halftime lead on the strength of a crushing running game featuring stellar senior Cody French, big play ability, as well as fast as lightning play on defense — particularly from its slight but swift defensive line.

French ran for two touchdowns and threw for another score and finished with 195 yards of total offense — 144 yards on the ground alone for Goddard.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: QUARTERBACK Darron Gallegos (8) looks down field as Jalen Chavez (5) flares out during the Tigers 35-28 loss in the Class 4A State Playoffs Friday night.

“We just weren’t urgent enough,” said LLHS senior Jalen Chavez, who started in both offensive and defensive backfields. “We couldn’t flow to the ball fast enough. (But) we fixed that up in the second half.”

The Rockets dominance continued into the third quarter when French capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to put Goddard up 28-0 midway through the third quarter.

But using big plays of their own, triggered by senior quarterback Darron Gallegos, Los Lunas fought to get back in the game.

Aided by its swarming defense, which stopped the Rockets and forced a fumble, Los Lunas’ explosive offense then finally ignited midway through the third quarter.

The Tigers scored touchdowns on their next three possessions as Gallegos connected on touchdown passes to seniors Chris Sanchez, Jacob Holland and Chavez.

“We came out for the second half and felt we had nothing to lose,” said Gallegos. “We have a big group of seniors starting, and we just banded together and gave it our all. We just came up short.”

Gallegos finished the game with four touchdowns passes and 307 yards of total offense. The two teams combined for 886 yards of offense — 394 for Los Lunas and 492 for the Rockets.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS DEFENDERS, led by Dakota Wood (40), try to corral Goddard running back Cody French, far right, during the Tigers’ state semifinal game in Roswell Friday night.

Up just 28-21 with five minutes left in the game, Goddard appeared to put the game out of reach with a 51-yard touchdown pass from French to Adam Gomez to take a 35-28 lead.

But the Tigers’ Gallegos found senior Randy Moore for an 81-yard touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage to cut the score to 35-28.

But Los Lunas was unable to recover the ensuing onside kick and Goddard ground out a final drive that sapped the clock and put the game out of reach.

“They fought with a lot of heart out there,” Goddard coach Sam Jernigan said of Los Lunas. “(They) made the plays they needed to make. We were just fortunate to make one more play.”

The Rockets advance to their third straight Class 4A State Championship game at 1 p.m. this Saturday at Farmington against the host Scorpions — the seventh finals appearance for Goddard in the last eight years.

The Tigers lose 20 seniors from this year’s squad, which Toliver said is a concern for next season.

“The whole program was the seniors,” he said. “The last four years, they just go and go and go. So they’ll be missed.

“But we have some juniors and sophomores who played big minutes this year. So our future is still bright.”

Chavez said despite losing a lot of experience and talent, the team should be able to continue playing at the same level the last two Tiger teams have, competing for district titles and running deep into the playoffs

“We’ve been a tough, hard-hitting team that likes to go out and get our noses dirty,” Chavez said. “These guys coming up just have to work hard.”

The senior addedthat a positive attitude will be a must for the Tigers.

When people tell you that you can’t do something, that’s when you need to go and do something,” Chavez said. “You have to funnel that negative energy into positive.”