TATUM — A well-worn cliché in baseball is that teams win when they’re tough up the middle.
It’s something that’s true for the Melrose football team as well.
In a five-minute stretch of the New Mexico 8-man championship game, shortly before halftime, the Buffaloes racked up 24 points and turned a close contest into a blowout.
Ultimately, Melrose would crush Tatum on Friday night by a 64-14 count and put the finishing touches on a second straight 13-0 campaign.
“We just started hitting harder and they started getting tired,” said Melrose junior Hayden Moore, who ran for 76 yards and was part of a defensive front that harassed Tatum quarterback Logan Medlin throughout the second period. “They just kind of backed down.”
Senior quarterback Clint Barnard, who rush for an astounding 345 yards, and it was his runs up the gut in the second quarter that gave the visiting Buffs some breathing room against the upset-minded Coyotes.
Melrose started the scoring when Moore plunged into the end zone from three yards out. Just over two minutes into the game, the Buffaloes held an 8-0 lead.
With Tatum hanging tight, it took Melrose until the 5:50 mark of the second period to get on the board again. This time, it was via a 46-yard run by Barnard.
But Melrose did have a problem on Friday and it was with penalties. The Buffs piled up 80 yards of infractions in the first half, to none for Tatum (10-2), and the negative yardage helped stall Melrose’s offense for more than a quarter.
With a 16-0 lead, Barnard broke down the left sideline for what appeared to be a 20-yard gain. When a yellow flag was thrown, most on the Melrose bunch assumed it was for a face mask call.
It was, against Barnard, and the Buffaloes were pushed back to their 42. It turned out not to matter as, this time, Melrose gave the ball right back to Barnard and he raced 58 yards for another touchdown.
“When I stiff-armed, they said I grasped (the Tatum defender’s facemask) —which I don’t think I did,” said Barnard, who scored five touchdowns in the romp. “But I just tried to keep my mind in the game. It really didn’t faze me, I just wanted to get on with the next play.”
On defense, it was the likes of Barnard, Moore, Sammy Lawrence and 340-pound senior Colby Sneller that bottled up the Tatum offense. The Coyotes finished with minus 10 yards rushing on 25 carries, and Medlin was sacked four times in the first half.
Before intermission arrived, Barnard broke loose again for a 36-yard score.
It was the second time Melrose played second-seeded Coyotes. this year. In the regular season, the Buffaloes shut out the Coyotes 44-0.
“They came and played hard and they slowed us down a little bit,” said Melrose coach Dickie Roybal, who collected his fourth state title at the school.
“We kept running things that worked and just stuck with it,” he added. “Two years in a row, 26-and-oh, that’s unreal.”