By his own estimation, the last time Cruz Garcia had lined up at cornerback he was in the sixth grade.
That didn’t seem to faze the Longmont senior Saturday afternoon though. Making his first start for the team in the secondary, Cruz intercepted a pair of passes — returning the second one 45 yards for a touchdown midway through the second quarter — as the Trojans’ starting unit put together a dominant showing in a 40-20 victory over Greeley Central at Everly-Montgomery Field.
“It felt great to just come in, and the defense welcomed me as a family,” Garcia said. “I felt like we just all bonded, and I couldn’t do it without the rest of my boys.”
Longmont (2-1) had allowed a combined 77 points in its first two games, but the defense pitched a shutout in the first half before giving way to the backups with a running clock in effect. The Trojans had three sacks and three interceptions and allowed only 13 yards of total offense in the first two quarters.
“We had some things that we were doing that just weren’t going to fly for what we’re trying to accomplish,” Longmont coach Doug Johnson said of the previous two weeks. “I thought today we got a little bit better, but we’ve still got a long ways to go.”
Drake Engelking rushed for 119 yards on only seven carries and scored on touchdown runs of seven, 30 and 47 yards. The senior also saw his first action at returning punts and made the most of his chances, returning six punts into Greeley Central territory in the first half.
“Drake’s dad was a great punter returner, and Drake has done a great job on kickoff for us,” Johnson said. “We thought we’d give him a try and it looked pretty good today.”
Longmont needed a little more than two minutes to get on the board in the first half, taking the lead on a short scoring strike from Oakley Dehning to Sage Yazzie. Cruz followed with his first interception of the day on the next Wildcats possession, returning it 28 yards to set up the first of Engelking’s three scores.
“That’s what I kind of expected. We thought we could use a little bit more speed over on the edge in some of our matchups,” Johnson said of starting Garcia. “He provides that, and he’s a tough kid. I’m really proud of him.”
Marcos Schneider added an interception later in the first quarter, and Engelking broke off a 30-yard touchdown run to make it 20-0.
A 47-yard touchdown run from Engelking and a 30-yard touchdown pass from Dehning to Jaydon Elkins made it 33-0. Garcia ended Greeley Central’s next drive with his second interception, taking it up the sideline for the score.
“I was just playing my spot,” Garcia said. “I went into my coverage and he overthrew it a little bit. I ended up just catching it and running for it and hoping for the best.”
Greeley Central (2-1) found some success in the second half. Yahir Chairez-Salazar returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, and quarterback Nathan Escobar had a 1-yard scoring run and tossed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Carlos Mejia in the final minute.
Longmont rushed for 176 yards in the victory but struggled to find its rhythm in the passing game.
“I think we, to be honest, can play a lot better,” Johnson said. “I was disappointed with some of the stuff we did today. We’ve got to get a lot better.”
Longmont takes on Skyline on Friday night before closing out nonconference play later in the month against Silver Creek.
Johnson said the Trojans will have to find ways to get the job done in the coming weeks against some tough opponents.
“I don’t think it’s a fine-tune situation anymore,” he said. “Going forward we’re going to have to do things at the top level to find wins.”
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Longmont 40, Greeley Central 20
At Everly-Montgomery Field
Greeley Central 0 0 12 8—20
Longmont 20 20 0 0—40
Longmont — Sage Yazzie 4 pass from Oakley Dehning (run failed). Longmont —Drake Engelking 7 run (pass failed). Longmont — Engelking 30 run (Jaydon Elkins run).
Longmont — Engelking 47 run (pass failed). Longmont — Elkins 30 pass from Dehning (Cruz Garcia kick). Longmont — Garcia 45 interception return (Garcia kick).
Greeley Central — Yahir Chairez-Salazar 89 kickoff return (Armstrong Zaw kick). Greeley Central — Nathan Escobar 1 run (kick blocked).
Greeley Central — Carlos Mejia 5 pass from Escobar (Zaw kick).
RUSHING — Greeley Central: Nathan Escobar 10-34, Javier Zambrano 6-3, Yahir Chairez-Salazar 2-4, Kian Rathmann 2-(-18), Eh Blu Htoo 1-(-1). Longmont: Drake Engelking 7-119, Caden Lowrie 3-20, Justice Lillie 3-16, Ryan Dicke 2-14, Beck Fieth 1-12, Jaydon Elkins 1-1, Keegan Patterson 1-0, Oakley Dehning 1-(-6).
PASSING — Greeley Central: Escobar7-16-2-83, Rathmann 1-3-1-3. Longmont: Dehning 2-6-1-34, Patterson 0-2-0-0.
RECEIVING — Greeley Central: Carlos Mejia 3019, Isaiah Esquibel 2-42, Eric Church 1-14, Lucio Avalaos Jr. 1-8, Matthew Jolley 1-3. Longmont: Elkins 1-30, Sage Yazzie 1-4.