It was another challenging weekend for Valencia County high school football teams.
While the Tigers, Jaguars and Eagles all lost home games, their head coaches believe they are improving as district play gets closer.
Los Lunas High School
After diving into the deep end of 6A football for the first time, the Los Lunas Tigers are working hard to stay afloat.
The 2021 5A champions have now lost three games in a row after falling to perennial big school power La Cueva, 49-17, last Friday at Willie Chavez Stadium.
A successful first quarter fake punt set La Cueva up for a 21-yard touchdown pass from Aidan Armenta to Cameron Dyer to make it 7-0. Armenta had a huge night, tossing six touchdown passes to five different receivers.
Los Lunas answered right back. Quarterback Paul Cieremans hit Fabian Trujillo who found pay dirt from 26 yards out to tie the score at 7-7 with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.
The Tigers’ special teams were confounded all night by the Bears’ strategy on kickoffs. Every La Cueva kickoff except for one was either a squib kick or was an onside kick. Los Lunas had a difficult time handling the ball on kickoffs, turning it over twice.
This helped the floodgates open in the second quarter, with a miscue on a kickoff and a fumble by the Tiger offense helping second-ranked La Cueva score 21 unanswered points.
“They’re ranked where they are for a reason,” Los Lunas head coach Greg Henington said of La Cueva. “A good football team, a good program, good athletes for sure.”
The Tigers tried to stay within range. Kaden Bell contributed a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter. Late in the half, players on both teams were involved in pushing and shoving when a La Cueva defensive back was flagged for targeting. That player was ejected.
The fired-up Tigers’ soon scored on a 22-yard rushing touchdown by Niko Torres.
“It felt great,” Torres said. “First time I ran the ball in probably three seasons. Oh, I love it. Nothing better.”
Los Lunas was in striking distance at the half, trailing 35-17.
But the hope soon slipped away. The Tigers’ were shutout in the second half, with the Bears, now 4-1, securing the 49-17 victory.
Henington is still optimistic as the Tigers head toward district play.
“We saw some growth in a lot of areas, but the same areas we need to improve on,” Henington said. “But we’re going to keep plugging away, keep loving each other and keep our eye on the bigger picture.”
LLHS is now 2-3 heading into Saturday morning’s game at Cibola.
Valencia High School
Heartbreaker, the sequel. For the second week in a row, the Valencia Jaguars lost in stomach-churning fashion.
The 3-2 Santa Teresa Desert Warriors scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter on Friday to force overtime and eventually win 28-22.
“I don’t remember anything like it since I’ve been coaching,” said VHS head coach Wesley Shank.
The loss to Santa Teresa followed a final-second setback against Portales.
“Frustrating” is the word Shank kept using.
Shank said the Jaguars could have secured the victory with just one more first down or defensive stop. The coach says the Jags have been hampered by a lack of depth and a series of injuries, especially on the offensive line.
Standout lineman Tilden Brown left the game at halftime, causing a shuffling of the lineup at numerous positions.
Despite the frustration, Shank is optimistic with district games approaching. The play of quarterback Rey Garcia and running back Matt Chavez have been encouraging. Several injured players should return soon adding to the depth.
“We are so fatigued at the end of games,” said Shank about one reason VHS has struggled in the fourth quarter.
Valencia, with a 1-3 record, goes on the road Friday to Bloomfield before homecoming Sept. 30 against Gadsden.
Belen High School
The Belen Eagles dropped to 1-4 after losing to Deming 51-20 Friday at Eagles Stadium.
BHS fell behind 9-0 after a touchdown and a safety.
“Deming has a lot of speed,” Eagles coach Kevin Peña said. “Their running backs are really quick, their secondary is very fast, and they were big up front.”
Despite the final score, Peña said the Eagles’ defense played tough. Elijah Romero came up with an interception and Adam Aguilar forced a first quarter fumble that Jesse Vasquez took 55 yards for the touchdown to make it 9-7.
Deming scored three straight touchdowns in the second quarter and the Wildcats led 30-7 at the half.
In the second half, Belen’s Derian Rodriguez rushed for two touchdowns, including a 60-yard sprint to the goal line, but the Eagles came up short 51-20.
“It sounds like the same old song and dance. Teams are bigger than us, just more physical than us,” Peña said. “But I think in the long run it is just going to benefit us. We’re playing solid, good competition week after week after week.”
Peña said the coaching staff is starting to develop more of a two-platoon system, with fewer players lining up on both offense and defense.
Next up for the 1-4 Eagles is a showdown at Las Cruces Mayfield on Thursday, Sept. 22.
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.