By Dave Wagner
Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of five stories highlighting the top Portales-area sports stories of the year.
Jeff Gillespie maintained in preseason that his youthful Floyd football team had a long ways to go to contend for a state championship.
“Melrose is the team to beat in six-man football,” he said in August. “(Junior Carlos) Ruiz has the same type of ability as the (Fide) Davalos kid that was here (several years ago). But they’ve got other players that are capable.
“I think they’ll be the favorites the next two years to win six-man.”
Obviously, the Broncos came a long way during the season.
With Melrose in the same district, the Broncos ended up facing the Buffaloes twice, both times at home — including the regular-season finale in which both came in unbeaten.
Floyd won that game 28-20 in a relative defensive struggle. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Melrose took the big prize with a 74-60 victory in the state championship game three weeks later.
Ruiz turned out to be a major thorn in the Broncos’ side during the title game, scoring eight touchdowns — six by rushing, one on a kickoff and one on a punt. Melrose held the Broncos scoreless in the second quarter in turning a 16-point deficit into a 44-30 halftime lead.
“We figured we’d play them again,” said Buffs senior Coy Speer. “I think the whole team played excellent. A couple of times we’d have a bad play or two, but it wasn’t anything we couldn’t come back from.”
Ruiz rushed for 325 yards — 238 in the first half — on 29 carries for Melrose. The Broncos stopped him for two or three plays at times, but eventually he got away for a big one.
“Our kids played hard,” Gillespie said. “I think Melrose was the favorite all year.
“We came out of the gates well, but our second quarter just killed us.”
Floyd, which won its only previous six-man title in 2000, rallied back in the third quarter to tie the game 52-52 on a 10-yard interception return by Brad Lee, a 27-yard touchdown pass from Jerrod Long to Jason Martinez and a safety. But they scored only one more over the final 12 minutes, and Ruiz put the Buffs ahead for good with his 73-yard punt return just two seconds from the end of the third quarter.
“We worked all week on punting it out of bounds to keep it away from him, but we just couldn’t do it,” Gillespie said. “The first time we were able to contain Ruiz — but not this time.”
Floyd finished with a 363-362 advantage in total offense. Long rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries and completed four passes for 117 yards — all for touchdowns.