Dons spoil comeback chance, hammered 35-7 by Dexter in semifinal
DEXTER — There was a moment when the West Las Vegas Dons had a chance to extend their 2018 football season beyond Saturday afternoon’s final gun in the semifinal matchup.
It came when Dons senior linebacker Antonio Bustamante intercepted a pass from Dexter quarterback Jarren Amaro late in the third quarter of a Class 3A game at Demon Field. Down 21-7, it appeared that the turnover could catapult West Las Vegas into a Meadow City matchup with crosstown rival Las Vegas Robertson. But Bustamante had a sneaking suspicion his pick was fool’s gold.
“I never gave up,” Bustamante said. “But … it seemed like to me that everyone was already for this season to be over. They were just tired of it. I’m always ready for this sport. I love this sport. I die [for this sport].”
The proof came in the last 15 minutes, as the Dons did nothing with Bustamante’s interception (they picked up a first down before punting) and Dexter scored twice more to put the finishing touches on a 35-7 win. The second-seeded Demons (10-2) will take on No. 5 Las Vegas Robertson at 2 p.m. Dec. 1 at Demon Field. The Dons end their season at 8-5 and the farthest the program has gone in the postseason since the 2003 team reached the 3A semifinals — which also ended in a 35-7 loss to Lovington.
That year, West Las Vegas had a chance to set up an all-District 2-3A championship against eventual state champion St. Michael’s. This time, the Dons were one win away from setting up an All-Meadow City title matchup. Adrian Gonzales, the West Las Vegas head coach, said that was not on his team’s mind leading up to its game.
“Our kids did a good job of not paying attention to that,” said Gonzales, who was a part of the Robertson staff until he took over at his alma mater in 2014. “We had this game to get past first before we could look at anything else. I think this will be a good learning experience to get this deep into the playoffs.”
Still, the Dons got within 21-7 when Darion Williams broke through with a 45-yard run. He followed that with a 4-yard touchdown run with 6:07 left in the third quarter. When the Demons got the ball back, their drive was thwarted by Bustamante’s pick at the Dexter 11-yard line with 3:45 left.
However, West Las Vegas only managed a 16-yard run by Bustamante and opportunity fizzled when it had to punt.
The Dons learned a valuable lesson in discipline. Defensively, they bent and broke at the wrong times, especially against the run as Dexter piled up 239 yards on the ground. Most of the yards came from the duo of Amaro and running back Nick Cobos. Amaro ran for 58 yards and three touchdowns, while Cobos had a team-high 67, and often set up Amaro for his scoring runs. The Demons’ multiple sets kept the Dons on their heels.
“It was just a bad day,” Gonzales said.
Amaro also completed 10 of 20 passes for 112 yards and a pair of scores to go with his lone interception. His favorite target was wide receiver Sergio Ramirez, who had four catches for 61 yards and perhaps the most crucial touchdown. With the Demons nursing a 14-0 lead late in the first half, Amaro and Ramirez hooked up twice to keep the drive alive.
The first connection was a 25-yard catch the 6-foot-1 Ramirez grabbed over Dons 5-3 cornerback Devin Tenorio on a third down-and-7 at the Dexter 47-yard line. Four plays later, the duo turned a third-and-10 situation into a 17-yard touchdown pass. Ramirez again caught the ball over Tenorio with 17 seconds left in the half.
“It was important right before the half to score,” Amaro said. “That was a big shift for us going into the second half. He balled out. Sergio Ramirez, he balled out.”
West Las Vegas spent a frustrating first half failing to execute. Its first three drives advanced into Demons territory, but fizzled as the Dons failed to convert on three of four fourth down plays. The second drive saw the Dons reach the Dexter 23, but quarterback John Balizan took a 3-yard sack on second down, then Cobos broke up a fourth-down pass to Bustamante.
The ensuing drive reached the Demons’ 30, but Balizan took another second down sack and his fourth down pass to Darion Williams was eight yards short of a first down.
“You got to give it to them, they’re a good team,” Bustamante said. “But we should be there [in the state championship game]. We just didn’t play good.”
Gonzales, though, didn’t want to dwell on the loss, instead seeing a program that is on the rise in a competitive district that occupied two of the four semifinal spots and slotted three teams in the top six seeds. The Dons lose only eight seniors, including the running back tandem of Williams and Bustamante, and Gonzales believes that the program turned a corner by reaching the semifinals.
“The expectations have been there for the playoff run every year,” Gonzales said. “Now, we got to semifinals and we know what it takes to get to the championship game. Ultimately, that is the main goal.”
Learning how to grab a championship moment when it arises was also a valuable lesson to take into next year.
Bustamante just wished it happened this year.