Top-ranked Panthers outlast Texico
Last updated 10/15/2022 at 12:56pm
TEXICO - You kind of know what's coming from the Jal Panthers. It's a matter of whether or not you can stop it.
Texico gave the top-ranked Panthers by far their stiffest test of the season on Friday night, but in the end the Wolverines came up short in a 41-35 District 4-2A loss.
Senior running back Jacob Lujan and senior quarterback Alexavier Carreon accounted for all of Jal's offense, each rushing for 191 yards. Lujan scored five of the team's touchdowns, and Carreon had the other.
Jal (9-0, 3-0 district) scored on five consecutive possessions in the second half to erase a 14-point deficit, the first time it has trailed all season. The middle three of those scores were set up by an interception, a blocked punt and a fumble recovery en route to a 34-21 lead with seven minutes to play.
Jal threw only two passes in the game, one by Carreon and one by Lujan, both incomplete.
"We're going to run the ball; that's what we do," Jal coach Dusty Giles said. "They're a good football team. This was definitely the best team we've seen this year."
The Panthers, averaging 52 points and having allowed a total of just 21 with six shutouts coming in, fell behind 21-7 in the first minute of the third stanza when Texico junior QB Cade Figg raced 77 yards for a touchdown.
After sophomore running back Alex Fuentes' second 2-yard TD run pulled the second-ranked Wolverines (5-3, 1-1 district) to 34-27 with 4:25 left, the Panthers (9-0, 3-0) recovered an onside kick and went 46 yards in six plays. Lujan capped it by taking a direct snap 19 yards for a touchdown and a 14-point advantage with 1:11 left.
"We're a very young team," Wolverines coach Bob Gilbreath said, noting Texico's only senior, Jadyn Gonser, is out for the season due to injury. "We're getting better every week.
"The thing about this team is we have fantastic chemistry. They've bought into our culture and system."
Figg rushed for 134 yards and went 8-of-15 passing for 157 for Texico, including two TD tosses to junior tight end Kyle Gonser.
If nothing else, the game gave Texico confidence it can hang with the Panthers, in the event they meet again in the postseason - likely, in the finals.
"We know we can play with them, and we're going to continue to grow," Gilbreath said. "The guys have set some high goals for themselves."
Lujan broke a couple of tackles en route to a 39-yard scoring run in the final minute of the opening stanza, but Figg's 46-yard pass to Gonser - he also spun out of a couple of tackles - and Fuentes' first score gave the Wolverines the lead at halftime.
After Figg's long run on the second play of the third period, Carreon capped a seven-play, 55-yard drive with a 15-yard run to cut the margin in half. Panthers junior Brandon Houston then intercepted Figg at the Texico 43, tipping the high pass to himself, and Jal tied it 10 plays later on Lujan's 10-yard run.
Jal then took control in the final frame on scoring runs of 17 and 53 yards by Lujan.
Giles said the game was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Panthers in preparing for the playoffs. It was their fewest points of the season, and only the second time they've scored less than 50.
"We needed this game," he said. "This is the first game we've had to really play four quarters. Tonight was more like playoff football."
While Jal ends its regular season at home against Hagerman (2-6, 0-2) on Friday, the Wolverines have two games remaining - at Loving (6-2, 0-2) on Friday and at home against Eunice (6-2, 2-1) on Oct. 28.