Hawks overcome adversity, fall just short of title
By Christophe Chino
Las Cruces Bulletin
The Centennial High School Hawks football team created surprise after surprise during the first four years of its existence, just falling short of pulling in the ultimate prize of a state championship Saturday, Dec. 5.
Centennial lost 42-34 in the Class 5A title showdown.
Hawks head coach Damien Ocampo said when he took the position at the football program’s inception four years ago, there was a lot of negative speculation on the future success of the team.
“Not a lot of people had faith in us at the start, and believed it would take far more than four years to get this far with the program,” he said.
Ocampo also recalled walking into the team’s first meeting with just nine potential players showing up.
But just four years later, the team was able to go undefeated and crush many opponents it met on its way to the District 5A state championship game against the Artesia Bulldogs. Though the Hawks were not able come out of the game with the championship in hand, they were still able to prove their ability on the field.
Down 21-0 with less than a minute left in the first half, the Hawks struck with 21-unaswered points. With a touchdown right before they entered the locker room and two more in quick succession at the start of the second half, they pulled even at 21-21.
This was crucial for the Hawks despite the loss because they were once again able to shush the naysayers who credited the team with amazing ability, but doubted whether the team could keep up with the Bulldogs, and those who also expressed their doubts of the team’s ability to close the 21-0 deficit, a gap they had never experienced this season.
Luis Gurrola, a senior at Centennial High and a defensive end for the Hawks, credited Ocampo with firing up the squad heading into the second half.
“We had a new mentality coming into the second half,” he said. “Coach just talked to us about this being the last game playing for this team for us seniors, and that we needed to play our hardest.”
Even after the loss, Gurrola and his family some of whom had traveled from Phoenix, to see his last game – were all smiles.
“The atmosphere on the field and getting to play in this game was just amazing, it was all just an amazing feeling. I’m going to remember this forever,” Gurrola said.
For many seniors such as Gurrola, the end of this game was a bittersweet moment. This will be the first senior class of players who played throughout their four years at Centennial, and even more importantly this senior class saw the team through its growing stages in order to become a clear state championship contender for years to come.
Though Centennial High will be moving up a division to 6A and will be facing tougher and bigger high schools, the confidence remains that this program will continue to do amazing things, Ocampo said.
The team also had to fight past a blow to their psyche with the sudden death of their assistant coach, Roger Grays, who died from injuries he sustained in a Thanksgiving Day vehicle accident. But as Ocampo described, the team’s high level of performance in that second half was for him.
“We all wanted to honor him the right way, and through this game,” he said. “Coach Grays was always the first to tell the kids to be strong and never give up, so they wanted to do just that for him.”
As Ocampo headed away from the field after speaking with the press, he grabbed Alex Voelz, who also just finished playing his last game for the Hawks.
“I’m going to miss you,” he told Voelz.
“I’m going to miss you too, Coach,” Voelz replied, tears running down his face.
“You’re such a great guy and you’re going to do great things,” Ocampo said.
Though their high school football careers have come to a close, this group of players was able to take on the impossible and for four years they were able to put their heart on the field.
Even in the face of so many challenges they were able to change a city of naysayers into a city of believers.