After a pair of losses and a difficult beginning to Friday night’s game against Centennial, host Cimarron-Memorial was starting to feel yet another game slipping away.
Down 14 points and with the Spartans facing a third down on their 31 and the prospect of a third straight three-and-out to open the game, Taz Taoipu emerged from the line and sprinted 69 yards for a touchdown.
“We weren’t doing good, and we had lost two games in a row. … I was getting mad,” Taoipu said. “I saw the cutback lane, and I hit it. All I was thinking was take it to the house.”
The play ignited No. 9 Cimarron to a 27-17 Northwest League victory over the 10th-ranked Bulldogs.
“That was huge. We had no enthusiasm,” Cimarron coach Rod Vollan said. “Things looked pretty grim. This team will play hard, but sometimes they haven’t shown the ability to handle duress very well. We blew the play up at the line of scrimmage with good blocking, and Taz made a great run.
“That gave us a great spark, and we were able to just gradually get ourselves back into the flow of the game.”
Prior to Taoipu’s touchdown, Cimarron (3-3, 3-2) had run eight plays for a total of 9 yards. Centennial (4-3, 2-3) had answered each of the Spartans’ punts with touchdown drives, of 70 and 37 yards.
The long run appeared to spark the entire team. Cimarron’s defense held the Bulldogs to a field goal the rest of the way.
The passing game also came to life for the Spartans.
Gerard Martinez completed 11 of 15 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the second quarter to give the Spartans the lead before halftime. He connected on all six of his attempts in the second half.
Vollan said the team always has been confident in the junior quarterback, but its passing game as a whole has struggled to get on the same page.
“We probably haven’t gotten into any kind of flow because balls were thrown to guys and dropped or we didn’t have good protection or the times we did have good protection and guys were open, we had a misfire,” Vollan said. “The passing game requires a lot of timing, and we’re starting to get to a point where we are confident in it.”
Martinez found freshman Isaiah Simmons, who was playing in his first varsity game, for a 15-yard TD to tie the score midway through the second quarter. Cimarron then took advantage of a pass interference and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the same play, which moved the ball to the Centennial 14 in the period’s final minute.
Martinez found Quinton Alexander in the corner of the end zone on the next play to put the Spartans up 20-14 at the half.
“Once we got that momentum, we just started to build off of it,” Martinez said. “We had a two-game losing streak, and we just got sick of losing, sucked it up, and this is the outcome.”
Centennial used up nearly eight minutes on a 15-play drive to open the second half but settled for a field goal to cut its deficit to 20-17. The Bulldogs didn’t score again.
After allowing Centennial 195 yards rushing in the opening half, Cimarron limited the Bulldogs to 56 yards on the ground after intermission.
Taoipu finished with 122 rushing yards and also scored on a 19-yard screen pass from Martinez in the fourth quarter.
Jacobi Owens ran for 131 yards and a score for Centennial, and Taj Cole added 98 yards on the ground. Coby Newton scored on a 2-yard run.