With the clock winding down on the Dolores High School football team’s home opener on Sept. 8, victory appeared to be within the Bears’ reach.
A 3-yard touchdown pass from Shiprock quarterback Aarwin Chee to wide receiver Tyris Newton on a fourth-and-goal play with five seconds left in the fourth quarter spoiled Dolores’ night however, as Bears lost a heartbreaker, 24-18.
Chee’s game-winning touchdown pass followed three consecutive goal-to-go stops by the Dolores defense after Shiprock drove the ball to the Bears’ 3-yard-line. On the touchdown-scoring play, Chee delivered a strike to Newton over the middle for the score.
“We had many defensive stops, but we have a lot of guys that are banged up, and we don’t have the depth right now to sustain us,” said head coach Chris Trusler. “Coach (Eric) Stovall and Shiprock came out here, and it was a heck of a game.”
The back-and-forth contest began on a positive note for Dolores, thanks to a scintillating kickoff return by Austin Hackney, who weaved his way through traffic before breaking free for a touchdown on the game’s opening play to give the Bears a 7-0 lead.
Key holding penalties on subsequent offensive possessions negated several long runs by the Bears, however, and Shiprock eventually scored when Chee connected with Newton for a 55-yard touchdown to cut the Bears’ lead to 7-6 with 5:13 left in the first quarter.
A fumble by Dolores running back Isaiah Cordova later in the first quarter gave Shiprock the ball on the Bears’ 18-yard-line, and Chieftains’ running back Alfred Smart scored a three-yard touchdown three plays later to put his team ahead 14-7 with 2:23 left in the first quarter.
Shiprock nearly struck again midway through the second quarter, but the Chieftains’ offense was stymied by an interception by freshman Jayden Karo, who caught the ball 4 yards deep in the Dolores end zone and ran the ball back 52-yards to the Dolores 48-yard line.
Trailing 16-7 early in the second half, Bears quarterback Justin Purkat connected with Hackney, who raced down the middle of the field for a 76-yard score to cut the lead to 16-13.
Purkat then delivered what was perhaps his finest play of the game when he rolled to his left to avoid Shiprock pass rushers before delivering a perfect strike to Karo, who raced down the left sideline for the score to put Dolores ahead 19-16 with 1:40 left in the third quarter.
“Purkat has been nursing an injury from the Hotchkiss game, and he has limited mobility,” Trusler said. “He definitely gave it his all tonight. Once we opened up the passing attack, it started working.”
A safety for the Shiprock defense occurred when Purkat was called for an intentional grounding penalty while throwing out of his own end zone cut the Bears lead to 19-18. The one-point spread remained until Shiprock’s final touchdown.
Purkat and junior linebacker Forest Pejsa had interceptions in the game for Dolores, and senior Preston Enoah had a fumble recovery for the Bears. Turnovers and penalties proved to be the Bears’ undoing, however, and after the game, Trusler lamented his team’s mistakes and promised improvement.
“Overall in the game, we had too many turnovers, and we had a lot of penalties,” the Dolores coach said. “We just can’t make those mistakes. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re going to improve.”
Now 0-2 on the season, Dolores will look to regroup playing at home against Dolores Huerta Prep on Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.