Entering 2016, the talk of who would win District 1-6A revolved primarily around El Dorado and Americas. As the season unfolded, a third team that would crash the party at the top. The Montwood Rams entered the season with questions about how they would respond under a first-year head coach and a lot of change around the program after former head coach Chuck Veliz’s retirement. All they did was go 6-1 in District play , which earned the Rams a share of the District 1-6A with the aforementioned El Dorado and Americas.
“We as a coaching staff recognized that we had some special kids when we got here and we just knew that if we could maximize their potential and get them to play beyond their abilities, we knew we’d be in the mix for that district title,” said head coach Ariel Famaligi, “Not many people gave us a chance and we took a lot of pride in proving the naysayers wrong.”
“It was a great group that we had this year,” quarterback Andrew Fernandez said, “We had a lot of leaders on this team that really stepped up and turned it into a good season.”
The Rams found a lot of success on the field in 2016, but they also know that it could have been even better.
“We had our ups and downs but I feel like we started clicking once we got into district play,” receiver Tyreese Andrus said, “and even after everything we went through with injuries and all that, I really feel like we should have had a chance to go undefeated in district.”
A big part of Montwood’s success in 2016 came from its offense, particularly Fernandez and Andrus. Fernandez was a leader in 6A in passing by the end of the regular season and finished with over 3,400 passing yards and 29 touchdowns. Andrus was his top target (63 receptions, 1,231 yards, 11 TD). The road to success wasn’t smooth however, especially at the beginning.
After two losses to Wolfforth Frenship and Midland High to start the year, the Rams came back to play Burges and Socorro in El Paso and won both. However, they only beat Socorro (who finished 0-10) by one point and there were people wondering just how good this team could be. Then, the El Dorado game happened.
“People weren’t sure what kind of a team we were and I think that El Dorado game was a turning point,” Famaligi said, “It let people know that we were for real. “It was a rallying point for us in the locker room and I’m sure it turned a lot of heads as well.”
The Rams and Aztecs have developed a strong rivalry on the Far East side of El Paso in recent years and have had many close contests. This game was no exception. El Dorado and Montwood went back and forth until Fernandez threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Tury Cepeda with 13 seconds left for a 47-44 upset win. That was the game that put the Rams on the map.
“I believed that if we won that game, it would turn our whole season around,” Andrus said, “El Dorado was one of the best teams in our district and if we got that game, that would push us over the top.”
The Rams used that victory as a spring board for wins over Franklin the following week and then Eastwood on the final day of the regular season to win a share of their first district title since 2012. Despite the bi-district loss to Amarillo Tascosa, Famaligi did say that he “couldn’t have asked for a better start as a first-year head coach.”
Looking further ahead into the offseason, the Rams will come out with a much bigger target on their backs and a different look. After relying on the defense to come up with stops when they needed to in 2016, Famaligi acknowledged that the offense would have to step up even more next year.
“We have the inverse of what we had coming in here last year where we have a lot of returners on offense and not so many on defense. As coaches, we’ve talked about ways we’ll be different. We’re definitely going to look for more of a balance next year.”
Even with the added pressure on their side of the ball, both Fernandez and Andrus are confident in their team’s ability to contend for another District 1-6A title.
“We’re going to have a good team,” Fernandez said, “We’re returning a lot of starters on offense and rebuilding on defense a little bit but I have trust in my team that we’re going to get better and be ready for an exciting season next year.”
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