The last week has been a wild roller coaster week for El Paso Jefferson. After defeating rival Bowie 26-16 on Saturday in the Battle for the South Side, the Silver Foxes had to wait and see whether they would be playing one more game. As it turns out, they are. The Foxes won a coin flip that broke a five-way tie for fourth place to get the last playoff spot out of District 1-5A.
Simply put, it was a thrilling moment that head coach Tony Martinez or his players won’t forget.
“The vibe has been great,” Martinez said, “It’s been a little overwhelming but it’s been nothing but positive for Jefferson and a big boost to the community as well.”
“We were happy after we found out on Saturday,” said Jefferson running back Jose Rubio, “It’s great because we haven’t been in the playoffs in 20 years and it’s a great feeling to be able to go.”
In just his first season at the helm, Martinez has Jefferson back in the postseason for the first time since 1997. After a 1-7 start to the season, the Foxes were able to pull out their last two games and now are a team with a wave of confidence behind them.
It’s a positivity that’s gradually grown even before Martinez coached a game with the Silver Foxes. After El Paso Independent School District approval, the school constructed an on-campus stadium that the team got to play in for the first time since the school opened in 1949. The Foxes had previously played their home games about two miles down Alameda Avenue at Bowie.
Jefferson also had several close calls this season in District 1-5A play but it was the first district loss against El Paso Irvin (34-27) that both players and coaches point at as the turning point of the season.
“I thought we came out real flat in that game but we kept fighting and we nearly had that game towards the end,” Martinez said, “We took that game as a learning experience and the kids have seen that they can play with other teams in this district.”
“That game was winnable but it just taught us a big lesson,” said senior fullback Christian Lara, If you’re not prepared to go after it, you won’t be able to get the win.”
After weeks of struggling, the Silver Foxes broke out with an emphatic 22-0 shutout over El Paso High and then their aforementioned win over Bowie. The players have taken that as a sign of the program heading in the right direction.
“The coaches have really emphasized hard work since they’ve been here,” Rubio said, “The attitude around the program has changed and it’s for the better.”
As enthusiastic as the vibe around the South Side Campus is, the Foxes know they will face a stiff test on Friday night against El Paso Eastlake in the Class 5A Division II playoffs. The Falcons finished second place in District 2-5A and are well-known for their speed and athleticism.
“Eastlake is a heck of a team,” Martinez said, “Going into a game like this, I just want them to get better and worry about the things we can control.”
The game will be the biggest one the Foxes have played in two decades but Jefferson isn’t backing away from the big stage. Instead, it’s moving in the one direction: forward.
“When I got here in January, there was a steep learning curve,” Martinez said, “But within a few months, the kids bought in and our senior class was a big part of that. We just have hard-working kids that know what it takes to be successful.”
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