The Los Lunas Tigers cruised into the state semifinals on Saturday behind five touchdowns from Bryce Santana in a 58-21 win over the Artesia Bulldogs.

“Really it’s our kids,” head coach Jeremy Maupin said. “We try to put them in a good situation but they make us really smart. Our secondary, even after the big plays they would come off and say ‘oh, I know how to fix it.’ The difference in this and some of our other games is that they did. That was fun to see.”

The Tigers got the scoring started on their first drive, as running back Derek Chavez was able to find success against the Bulldog defense and set up the first of Santana’s touchdowns to put LLHS up 7-0

Artesia answered back right away, with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Creighton. However, the Bulldogs missed the extra point, so Los Lunas retained a one-point lead, 7-6 with 4:13 remaining in the first quarter.

Santana got his second on the next drive, but the play that set up the opportunity was a pass from Kade Benavidez to Lorenzo Sosa, who would have scored himself but he fell down around the 25-yard-line. Santana punched it in from a yard out and a successful two point conversion made it 15-6 just before the quarter ended.

Bryce Santana fights off a tackle as he runs into the endzone during Saturday’s game at LLHS. The Tigers won 58-21 behind five touchdowns from Santana.
Cameron Goeldner | News-Bulletin photo

After a defensive stop forced an Artesia punt the Tigers added to the lead with Santana’s third touchdown of the day. This time, it was from six-yards out and set up by a 56-yard completion to Andrue Garcia. The score put LLHS up 22-6 barely a minute into the second quarter.

The Bulldogs answered in less than a minute, as coverage broke down and gave the visitors a 56-yard touchdown to cut the lead to eight, 22-14.

On their next drive, Los Lunas brought out the trickery, as a flea flicker led to a 41-yard connection between Benavidez and Lorenzo Sosa and a score, putting the Tigers up 29-14 with just over six minutes to play in the second quarter.

Artesia scored its final touchdown of the game with just over four minutes left in the first half, as quarterback Clay Houghtalin connected with Braxton McDonald from 23-yards out to make the score 29-21. However, the Tiger defense wouldn’t allow another point.

Santana would score his fourth on the ensuing possession, this one from three-yards out, before another two point conversion increased the lead to 37-22 with 1:09 left in the half.

The Tigers would force a quick defense stop and went about 50-yards in less than 30 seconds to go up 44-21 as Benavidez found Chavez for the 28-yard touchdown.

In the third quarter, the Tigers would only need two scores instead of the six they had in the first half, scoring on every offensive drive. Donald Thomas scored from nine-yards out a minute and a half into the third quarter and made it 51-21 before Santana finished things off with his fifth and final touchdown.

Santana’s fifth gave the Tigers a 58-21 lead, ending the scoring and starting the running clock.

Next week, the Tigers will travel to Roswell to take on Goddard at the Wool Bowl in the semifinal.

The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday and is a rematch of last year’s semi as well as a regular season contest this year.

Both of those matchups were won by the Tigers. The most recent matchup was a 21-7 win for LLHS in September. In that game, Santana scored twice for the Tigers and Chavez rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown of his own.

The Tigers defense came up big as well, forcing four turnovers to give LLHS the edge.

Since that game, the Tigers have only played a full four quarters twice, and both of those games included a running clock.

The winner of that game will advance to play the winner of the Roswell-Deming game, which is scheduled for next Friday and will also be played at the Wool Bowl.

To reach this stage, the Rockets knocked off Piedra Vista on Saturday in a close one, winning by a score of 20-10 over the sixth seeded Panthers.

“We’ve played them before so we know what they bring, they’re a really big, physical team that runs it down your throat,” Maupin said. “We know we’ve got to get our guys prepared and just hope that we continue playing good football.”

The Tigers, despite being the higher seed, have to travel down south because last year’s semifinal between the two was held at LLHS.

GHS also holds a 9-2 record on the year, with its only losses coming against Los Lunas and Roswell. The Rockets

New Mexico Activities Association bylaws for football dictate that the location of semifinal and championship games is determined by past history between the schools in those rounds.

Should the Tigers and the Roswell Coyotes advance, the state championship would be held in Los Lunas despite RHS being the higher seed because when the two teams met in the championship game last year, it was held in Roswell.

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Cameron Goeldner grew up in Boulder, Colo., and attended the University of New Mexico. He covers everything sports for all Valencia County schools.