PECOS — The dawn of a new day in Big Spring football is officially upon us following a thrilling 32-26 triple overtime win over El Paso Riverside in the Bi-District round of the playoffs last Friday night.
It was win-or-go-home for the Steers and they rose to the occasion after blowing a 20-7 lead that they held in the second quarter. This also marks the first time that Big Spring has advanced past the Bi-District round since 2018 and the first time they have had a winning season since 2014. The win last Friday night officially signals the beginning of a new era of Steer football.
“This win guarantees our first winning season since 2014,” McWilliams said. “I said it at the beginning of the season, the laughing is over. We’ve been a joke for about six years and people have laughed at us. Now, we have great community support, this thing is turning around, and it’s awesome.”
The last time Big Spring finished the fall with a winning record, Ezekiel Elliott was leading Ohio State to a National Championship, the San Francisco Giants had just won their third World Series in a span of five years, and former Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was in the midst of his Offensive Player of the Year campaign.
Now, the clock on a new streak has begun. A streak of consecutive Gold Ball’s won that currently sits at one. While it is not an easy feat to advance past the Bi-District round, the Big Spring coaching staff and players expect to be in this position year after year moving forward.
“This is the new normal,” defensive coordinator Brad Harman said.
Big Spring started off hot on Friday night by scoring their first three touchdowns of the game in the first quarter. First, junior quarterback Gabriel Baeza ran in a score from seven yards out following an early interception by Maverick Yanez on the Rangers’ first drive of the night. Then, in another goal-line situation midway through the opening quarter, Braxton Pearson lined up at fullback and charged the needed two yards into the end zone to put the Steers ahead 14-0.
El Paso Riverside’s drive following Pearson’s touchdown ended with an 81-yard touchdown connection from sophomore quarterback Angel Munoz to junior wide receiver Frank Luna. Munoz threw a deep ball deep down the right sideline that Luna caught in stride and took the remainder of the way into the end zone.
Finally, just two minutes later and with only a couple of seconds remaining in the first quarter, Baeza rushed for another touchdown - this time from 16 yards out. The Steers were up 20-7 heading into the second quarter and they seemed to be on an unstoppable roll.
Then, the Riverside defense began to tighten up and Big Spring would not score again until the first overtime.
“We were able to continue to keep fighting. We had every reason to give up but we kept fighting,” McWilliams said.
Riverside’s next score was a 48-yard rush by sophomore running back Jose Guardado, who went untouched straight through the middle of the Steer defense on his way to the end zone. The extra point was no good and the Steers led 20-13 heading into halftime.
The third quarter was completely scoreless and neither team seemed to be giving an edge to their opponent. Both defenses were playing strong, hard-nosed football and that was displayed on the scoreboard.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Rangers were facing a fourth-and-goal from the Steer 15-yard line. Munoz then ran around the backfield, found an open receiver, and fired an accurate pass to senior wideout Aaron Aguilar in the end zone for another Riverside touchdown. The extra point was successful and the game was tied with just over six minutes to play.
On the ensuing drive, Baeza tried to connect with a receiver deep down the left sideline and the was intercepted by Riverside sophomore Adrian Estrada.
Riverside took over in their own territory but quickly started to move down the field. Then, when it seemed the Steers might have had them stopped on a fourth down, the Rangers ran a successful fake punt that set them up inside Big Spring territory. A few plays later, safety Eli Cobos made a tremendous diving catch for a much-needed interception that gave his team the ball back.
Right before the end of regulation, the Steers had one last shot for the end zone. Baeza launched a deep pass that wide receiver Kaegen Mitchell had swatted out of his hands at the goal line.
Just like that, Big Spring was headed for overtime.
Riverside was up first in overtime and it took them nine plays to go the necessary 25 yards into the end zone. The drive was capped off with Munoz connecting with Estrada on a 3-yard touchdown pass. However, the extra point was then blocked by Ricky Escovedo and the Rangers led 26-20 with the Steer offense ready to take the field.
After a loss of one yard on first down and a false start that pushed them back five more yards on second down, Baeza put the team on his back and weaved his way through the defense for a 31-yard rushing touchdown. However, Big Spring’s extra point clanked off the left upright and the two teams were heading for a second overtime tied at 26.
There, both teams only had one-play drives as both quarterbacks threw an interception. Baeza was once again picked off again by Estrada on a pass that was late and behind the intended wide receiver. Then, on almost the exact same type of throw, Munoz tossed an interception to Mitchell near the goal line.
“It sure was nice to see Kaegen play well again. He’s had a rough couple of weeks and has been battling through some things, but it’s nice to have him back at full-strength,” McWilliams said.
Both teams were headed for a third overtime.
Riverside had the ball first and this time could do nothing with it. Facing a 4th-and-12 with the game on the line, defensive end Jonathan Miller came up with a huge sack that gave his team the ball with a chance to put the winning score on the board.
Baeza began the next drive with a 21-yard rush straight up the middle that set his team up inside the 5-yard line. He then plunged ahead for two more yards before connecting with Pablito Dehoyos from two yards out for the winning score on second down.
The entire Big Spring bench rushed the field with excitement and it was official that Big Spring would be moving onto the next round of the playoffs. There, they will play Springtown (9-2, 4-1) with a chance to continue shocking the ‘experts’ who so often pick against them.
“Now we get Goliath next week,” McWilliams said. “But heck, we get to play again. I’m excited that we get another week of work.”
Shawn Moran is the sports writer at the Big Spring Herald. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com or call 432-263-7331.