LORDSBURG, N.M. — “That’s a win they’re going to remember,” exclaimed head coach Alonzo Highsmith after his Willcox Cowboys football varsity escaped Lordsburg with a season-opening 28-20 overtime win Friday night.
The Cowboys overcame three quarters of frustration and a 20-6 deficit to score on their final two possessions of the fourth period to force the 20-20 tie. They scored on their first possession of overtime and held their Mavericks opponents out of the end zone to seal the dramatic victory and start a post-game celebration.
“The boys deserved that celebration,” Highsmith said. “They played hard for four quarters (plus one).”
Willcox trailed from the outset, trimming an 8-0 deficit to 8-6 when quarterback Caiden Hall scampered for a 30-yard touchdown run in the first period, Highsmith said. Hall, a senior, was a surprise starter at the QB position when first stringer Jacob Abarca injured his hip in practice. Hall had just two days to prepare for his debut, winning the position over junior Ote Allsup, a former middle school quarterback who “didn’t know my system as well as Caiden,” Highsmith said.
Despite a stout defensive effort that forced seven interceptions, five by junior Cael Debaun, Highsmith said, the Cowboys failed to capitalize on the opportunities and trailed, 14-6, at the half and 20-6 by the end of the third.
“We didn’t play as well as we should have in the first half and the third quarter,” Highsmith said. “But we finally executed better, and I have to give the players credit that they didn’t wear down while the other team did. We looked like we just started the game in the fourth with our energy and tackling.”
Debaun scored on a 50-yard catch and run to draw the Cowboys closer at 20-12 with five minutes left. The defense got the ball back quickly, and Hall scored on a 5-yard quarterback scamper to draw to within 20-18. Sophomore slot receiver Fabian Moreno got the surprise call on a reverse to run for the 2-point conversion and force the 20-20 tie and a high-school playoff to break the tie.
“Our youth and inexperience at some positions showed, but we also saw that these guys can play football,” Highsmith said.
It was senior Hall who carried the day in overtime, however, scoring on a short run on a quarterback dive and following that up with the 2-point conversion.
“Caide, Ote and Cale played well the whole game, and (junior) Isaac Felix had a great game as well at corner and linebacker. If he wasn’t there, the game would have looked totally different,” Highsmith said.
“I’m happy with the win, of course,” he continued. “But I just know that the Willcox Cowboys can be so much better. That’s what I want my guys to realize. They can celebrate their win. Let me be the one to look for every little flaw. I’ll do that.”
Willcox gets a bye this week before hosting Pima in the home opener Sept. 6.
“We’ll work on a lot of fundamentals and get back to the basics,” the coach said. “We have high standards, and we didn’t feel everyone was trying to reach that bar. But when that clock started whittling down, when they realized they might not be winning the game, we took a ‘go get it’ approach and it worked.”