UPDATE/NEW INFORMATION : NMAA reverses decision on Valley Viking’s full punishment; will be allowed to play Los Lunas
The Belen Eagles football team did not want to go into the record books this way.
After a scuffle ended the game Friday night, the Eagles and Valley Vikings became the first teams to be given a first strike under the new “two strikes” sportsmanship bylaw implemented by the New Mexico Activities Association.
The Eagles and Vikings will each forfeit their next game and risk suspension for the entire season if a second “egregious” incident takes place.
From the beginning, Friday’s contest at Milne Stadium was plagued by personal foul penalties, including five in the first few minutes. That led to trash-talking and individual face-offs among players and complaints from coaches.
The dam burst in the fourth quarter, with the Vikings leading 33-7. A Valley touchdown was called back on a punt return when at least two penalties were called against the Vikings. Two Belen defenders were injured, one on a blind-side hit, another when he was blocked in the back.
On the next play after the injured players were helped off the field, a Valley runner was driven out of bounds near the Vikings bench. It’s unclear if a penalty was called on the Belen tackler, but trouble immediately escalated, with players pushing, shoving and jawing with each other.
Belen coaches ran across the field, pulling players away from the fracas. Most BHS bench players also raced to the scrum.
It took several minutes but an uneasy calm returned and the Eagles went back to their bench area. At that point, the officials met briefly with head coaches Kevin Peña of Belen and Valley’s Billy Cobos.
The game was called at the 4:58 mark of the fourth quarter and Valley awarded a 33-7 victory.
After the cancellation, the two coaches had a brief discussion near the locker rooms. Peña said Cobos apologized for all the penalties, but it wasn’t satisfying.
“I was still pretty hot,” Peña said, shortly after. “You know, a coach could take care of a lot of that.”
Peña said he was told Valley has a history of personal fouls and, “If they continue to do this, the NMAA is going to have to do something.”
On Saturday, the NMAA did take action, against both teams. NMAA Executive Director Sally Marquez told the News-Bulletin there was no film available to view following the last play.
“Between the end of the game and when a decision was made …there had been communication with both schools’ athletic directors and administrators,” to find out exactly what happened, Marquez said.
Lawrence Sanchez, Belen Consolidated Schools superintendent, and Steve Contreras, BHS athletic director, were both at the game and had conversations with Marquez.
The officials’ game report was also studied by Marquez, helping her in the decision to implement the new “two strikes” policy, which was adopted to cut down on poor behavior by teams and fans.
Belen will forfeit its next game at Deming because every Eagle player left the bench area and, by rule, was ejected from the contest. That triggered an automatic one-game suspension for each athlete, leaving the team with not enough players to suit up at Deming.
Marquez also ruled that because Valley players took an active part, they too are suspended.
“This is a situation where it was volatile between both schools, where an official had to stop the game,” Marquez explained. “I’m not trying to send a message. We sent that message back in July with the two strike rule,” which was approved by member schools.
During an interview Sunday, Peña reiterated what he told the News-Bulletin after the game.
“I just think our kids were protecting each other from anything worse that could have happened,” mentioning what he called three cheap shots shortly before the final incident. “I think our kids had enough. You have to protect your family before you protect anybody else.”
“I understand the frustration, but we have to trust those people in charge of keeping our players safe,” Sanchez said.
When asked if he agrees with the NMAA ruling, Sanchez said he does.
“I do, and that’s not going to be a popular decision,” in the community. “I just don’t think that has a place in high school sports. I don’t. I agree with her decision.”
Both Sanchez and Peña believe this is an opportunity to learn and get better.
The two forfeits impact Los Lunas and Deming as well. Valley’s next game was scheduled for Sept. 22 at LLHS, while Deming was set to host Belen on Friday. Those vacancies will leave all four teams without a full slate of regular season contests.
As for the game against Valley, BHS started well when sophomore linebacker Dillon Hendren intercepted a pass and raced 52 yards for the touchdown to give the Eagles their first lead of the season, 7-0.
“Coach told us during practice if we cut outside, maintain our gap, we’d get a pick,” Hendren said. “And that’s what I did — it was scary. I was scared somebody was going to come behind me and strip it.”
The Belen defense kept Valley out of the end zone in the first quarter, but the Eagle offense was sputtering again. BHS managed less than 100 yards total offense and never threatened to score.
Eventually, Valley’s offensive weapons got rolling, with power up the middle and tremendous speed on the outside.
Viking Charles Lopez-Burton scored three touchdowns, racking up more than 300 yards of all-purpose yardage. To cap off a career night, Lopez-Burton was crowned homecoming king at halftime.
Penalties dogged both sides throughout the game and midway through the fourth quarter nerves were frayed. That is when the problem escalated to the “boiling point,” as Peña described it, turning into something more than a scuffle but just shy of a brawl. By then, officials had seen enough and called the game.
Belen (0-4) next plays Sept. 22 at home against Las Cruces Mayfield.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.