ALBUQUERQUE — For the first time since 2007, the district’s football crown was won by a team not hailing from Rio Rancho.
The state’s top-ranked football team on a gorgeous late-fall Saturday afternoon was at times spectacular, at times undisciplined and at times dog-tired.
But Volcano Vista, despite an astonishing 251 yards in penalties, put up 650 yards of total offense against No. 2 Rio Rancho — and still had to hold on for dear life at the end as the Rams (6-3, 3-1 in 1-6A) chased the Hawks all the way to the end before falling 51-43 at Nusenda Community Stadium.
“At times, it was a great game,” Hawks coach Chad Wallin said. “At times, it felt like a circus with the officials and the flags.”
For Volcano Vista (9-0), it was the school’s first district championship in football. This victory secured the District 1-6A crown and certainly the overall No. 1 seed for the 6A playoffs. The last time a non-Rio Rancho team captured the title was back in 2007, when Cibola claimed it.
The teams combined for 1,098 yards of offense.
This three-hour contest weaved in and out on the “compelling” scale. The Hawks never trailed, but their leads varied in size. It was 14, and then 17, in the first half. It grew to 31 points (51-20) with 3½ minutes left in the third quarter.
And yet, Rio Rancho, perhaps emboldened by what happened in Week 1 when the Rams blew a 28-point second-half lead to Centennial before losing to that city’s Hawks in overtime, surged back against these Hawks, led by senior quarterback Isaiah Chavez.
Chavez threw a TD pass to Tyrese Watson at the end of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 51-27. Chavez, on a fourth-and-10, ran 23 yards on a scramble for a touchdown with 4:26 remaining, and with a 2-point run, the Rams were down 51-35.
Then Rio Rancho recovered the ensuing onside kick, and Chavez engineered a quick scoring drive. His 3-yard score, plus a 2-point pass to Devon Dyer, made it an eight-point deficit with 2:33 still on the clock. The Volcano Vista defense, for the first time all season, clearly was gassed.
The Rams got the ball back once more, at their 20 with 73 seconds left, but Chavez was tackled at the Rio Rancho 43, coming up short on a fourth-down play, and the game was over.
Volcano Vista senior QB Diego Pavia threw for 310 yards (on 21 of 25 passing) and four touchdowns, including two in the third quarter when the Hawks in a span of five minutes extended from a 31-20 lead to a 51-20 cushion.
Pavia also rushed for 129 yards; running backs Isaac Chavez and Jimmy Gallegos combined for 211 rush yards.
Rio Rancho lost three fumbles, two by Chavez; coach David Howes said the first was a touchdown ruled a fumble.
Chavez agreed: “The ball crossed the plane. I scored, then I got hit — fumbled it, obviously. But you know what? It is what it is. They called it a fumble on the field, so it’s a fumble on the field.”
While the Hawks didn’t turn that takeaway into points, they did score 14 points off the other two Rio Rancho turnovers.
Although Rio Rancho’s penalty count (seven for 65 yards) was modest, the Rams also were burned as a holding call negated a Chavez TD run in the first half; Rio Rancho ended up not scoring on that possession.
“We wanted to come out with a win; we didn’t,” Chavez said. “But you know what? I’m proud of my team: We played hard, we played strong, we played fast. … That’s a quality team over there.”