Shorthorns football season opener ends in “no contest” after Grandfalls player injured

Alexis Gonzales, Aundrea Garcia Bullet, and Ummi Chanez cheered on Marfa football during their first game of the season at Martin Field, which ended early and without a final score. Photos by Maisie Crow

MARFA — Despite heightened COVID-19 precautions, spirits were high at kickoff for the Marfa High School’s six-man football season. But an injury sustained by a Grandfalls-Royalty player during the fourth quarter led to a “no contest” ending for the Shorthorns’ home game against Grandfalls.

Players, families and fans alike were eager for the new season to begin, even with the many changes expected under the Friday night lights this year. The 60 tickets made available for presale sold out before gametime, and to avoid the formation of lines and the exchange of physical money, no tickets were available at the box office that night – one of the many changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marfa Head Coach Arturo Alferez said, “I was excited to have a home game here. Then I realized all the logistics that go into it.” This year, Alferez said, many coaches are trying to play away games to avoid the hassle of COVID-19 precautions.

In preparation, the school added bleachers for visiting fans to be separate from locals, organized the flow of foot traffic with signage and upgraded bathrooms so both teams could use separate facilities. Coaches wore masks, socially distanced, and even the middle school managers wore masks and gloves to refill players’ waters.

“There are so many people that played a big role behind the scenes in making this game possible,” Coach Alferez said. “We did a little bit more than what was expected when it comes to COVID protocol.”

While Grandfalls was first to put points on the board, Marfa pushed back hard. Dedrick Campos scored Marfa’s first touchdown of the season, and Ethan Saenz scored a touchdown on a kickoff return, taking the ball nearly 40 yards to the end zone. Grandfalls scored right before halftime. At the break, the score was 14-12, with Marfa trailing slightly.

“It was a defensive game,” said Alferez in an interview this week. “We did have multiple opportunities to punch it in and score, but there are some things we need to work out here in practice and get ready for our next game.”

The Shorthorns put up a good fight but ultimately walked away without a win, after an opponent was injured and the game was called as “no contest.” Still, fans, families and players alike were in high spirits even as COVID-19 precautions have changed some aspects of Friday night football.

In the fourth quarter, Marfa began driving the ball down the field, the score sitting at 20-12, with Grandfalls ahead. Then, a Grandfalls-Royalty player went in for a tackle against Marfa. Helmets crashed together and the players fell to the ground. After a quick attempt to stand up, the Grandfalls player remained laid-out on the field as coaches rushed to assist him. The Grandfalls trainer came down and ran through the concussion protocol. The player remained conscious the entire time but did complain about back pain and neck pain, according to Alferez.

Jessie Peña, an off-duty EMT Paramedic who was attending the game to watch his son play, also rendered aid to the player. While Marfa EMS had been in attendance during the game, minutes earlier they had left on an emergency call to attend the scene of a single-vehicle fatal car crash south of town. A second EMS team was dispatched to the football game.

Since Grandfalls-Royalty coach, Jeff Corean, would be leaving in the ambulance with the injured student, the head coaches agreed to call off the rest of the game, declaring it a “no contest.” The score was Grandfalls 20, Marfa 12 when the game ended.

As the only certified bus driver for Grandfalls, Corean expressed concern to Alferez about leaving the rest of his team stranded while he went to the hospital with his injured player.

But Alferez stepped up, offering to drive the opposing team home, nearly two hours away. “I told him, ‘If you feel comfortable and want to go with him in the ambulance, I can drive your boys to Grandfalls and have one of my coaches follow me and pick me up and bring me back,’” Alferez said.

With their school district’s approval, Marfa’s coach and the rest of the Grandfalls-Royalty football team were on their way, with Marfa’s assistant coach, Edgar Ramirez, following so he could drive Alferez back to Marfa.

The injured player was released from the hospital around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. An hour later, at 3:30 a.m., Alferez and Ramirez arrived back home to Marfa after dropping off the Grandfalls team.

The injured player “is well on his way to a quick recovery,” Coach Corean wrote on social media. “Through it all, our guy stayed brave and calm and handled the situation like a champ.”

“Also, I cannot thank the coaching staff and school community of Marfa enough. They were very helpful through it all. Words cannot express how grateful I am for Coach Alferez and Coach Ramirez. They drove our players home so I could be at the hospital,” wrote Corean. “What they did speaks volumes about who they are, not just as coaches, but as human beings as well.”

Maisie Crow contributed reporting for this story.