Despite each losing their final regular season game, all three Valencia County high school football teams were selected for the state playoffs. However, Los Lunas, Belen and Valencia must get on the bus and head out on the road.
Numerous factors are used when teams are selected for the post season, including record, head-to-head competition and strength of schedule. In addition, there are only 16 teams in 5A and 17 teams in 4A to complete the 12-team brackets. In 5A, Belen was among four teams with one win or less.
“We need a little luck out there,” is how Belen coach Kevin Peña described the odds of making the post season after losing at home Friday to Piedra Vista, 49-14.
Somehow, the dice came up lucky sevens Sunday when the 5A bracket was released by the New Mexico Activities Association. Despite just winning one game, Belen (1-9, 1-2) snuck into the 5A playoffs as the 12th seed, setting up a first-round rematch from last year against No. 5 Deming.
“It is always exciting when you can make it to post-season play,” Peña said. “Everybody starts at zero-zero.”
The Eagles are no strangers to Deming, having lost twice to the Wildcats last season. BHS was scheduled to visit Deming (7-3, 3-0) in September, but the Eagles forfeited the game after a scuffle against Valley led to a first strike penalty from the New Mexico Activities Association.
Peña says Deming brings plenty of speed, with standout play from the quarterback and running back positions, as well as linebacker.
“Defensively, we’re going to have to play one of our best games of the season,” the coach said.
But Peña believes the Eagles have played their best over the past three games, which included Friday’s 49-14 loss to Piedra Vista. After giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff, BHS answered with touchdowns from Logan Gonzalez and Derian Rodriguez to tie it at 14 all. It was all Piedra Vista after that.
As for qualifying for the playoffs with just one win, Peña points to a difficult schedule that may have scored points in the coaches poll.
“Our schedule is tough. It’s not like were playing just anybody,” Peña said.
That lineup included Los Lunas, Mayfield, Goddard and Artesia.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. Friday in Deming.
Los Lunas (7-3, 3-1) was in position to not only win a district title, but also to secure a home game and a possible first round bye in the 6A state tournament. Instead, those possibilities came crashing down with a last second, 30-29 loss Friday at unranked Clovis (5-5, 4-0,) sending the Tigers to Las Cruces as a No. 10 seed.
“That loss destroyed us,” as far as a high seeding, said LLHS coach Greg Henington.
“It’s extremely painful for everyone,” Henington said after Los Lunas surrendered a 29-12 second half lead.
The Tigers had rushing touchdowns from Emi De la Torre, Gage Marquez and Kaiden Reese, along with a touchdown pass from Damacio Kaneshiro to Fabian Trujillo.
But the Tigers’ offense stalled in the third quarter, the defense gave up two long rushing touchdowns and the Wildcats took the lead for good on a 93-yard fourth-quarter drive that chewed up about nine minutes. A last-second field goal try by Los Lunas was no good.
The Tigers must “shake it off and move forward,” against No. 7 Las Cruces, a program Henington knows well from his days as a coach at Las Cruces Mayfield.
“They’re going to run double-tight end, use the run- game the entire game,” the coach said, “and a ton of play action.”
It will be something of a chess game because Las Cruces also knows what Henington likes to run offensively. The Bulldawgs’ (5-5, 3-1) record is deceiving after losing their first four games to quality opponents in Volcano Vista, Cleveland and two El Paso schools.
“It’s going to be a battle, for sure,” Henington said.
The battle begins at 7 p.m. Friday at the Field of Dreams in Las Cruces.
Valencia may have grabbed the 12th and final spot in the 4A field, but Jaguars’ coach LeDarrius Cage is more than willing to take it.
“I feel good. I like our matchup,” Cage said about the Friday trip to play at fifth-seeded Bernalillo (7-3, 1-2.)
Perhaps the best thing about the pairing?
“We don’t have to travel across the state,” Cage said about the short ride up Interstate 25 after regular season road trips that took VHS to the far reaches of northern, southern and eastern New Mexico.
Put squarely on the bubble after losing Friday 50-28 at Silver, Valencia (4-6, 0-3) was able to get into the state tournament mainly on its strength of schedule. All four teams in District 4 qualified for the 12-team field.
The Jaguars will go into the playoffs upbeat. The contest at Silver was one of Valencia’s “better offensive performances. We scored on our first three drives,” Cage said.
With standout Danny Villegas out for the season with an injury, Valencia will continue to fill his role with several players.
Cage is learning more about Bernalillo, which has not been on the Jaguars’ schedule in many years.
“That’s going to be a fresh team for us to prepare for,” Cage said. “Our seniors really wanted another game and fortunately we did enough to get in.”
It wasn’t many years ago that Bernalillo struggled to be competitive, but that is no longer the case. The Spartans have wins over Valley and Highland, and Friday pummeled Albuquerque Academy 50-14 behind six touchdown passes from quarterback Uriel Castro.
The Jaguars and Spartans will line it up at 7 p.m. Friday in Bernalillo.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.