Mike Powers | News-Bulletin photos
The LLHS Tigers take the field on a cold night at Cleveland High School

Rio Rancho

In a rare playoff match-up between reigning state champions, the Los Lunas Tigers were blown out by the Cleveland Storm, 49-9, in the 6A quarterfinals Friday at Cleveland High School.

Cleveland, the two-time defending 6A champion, scored touchdowns on their first five possessions to make a statement against the 2021 5A titlists, who moved up in class this season.

Josh Perry rushed for more than 200 yards and scored the first of his four touchdowns early in the first quarter. The Storm dominated the line of scrimmage on a cold night and when Perry and other Cleveland ball carriers got into the secondary their speed was impressive.

When it was suggested the Storm looked more like a track team, LLHS head coach Greg Henington responded.

“Or a junior college team,” he said. “That’s what they look like to me.”

While the Storm offense was proving hard to stop, the Tigers had trouble moving the ball, although quarterback Paul Cieremans connected on several nice passes to Michael Baca and Ethan Baca. A punt return for a score put Cleveland up 35-0 at the half.

LLHS quarterback Paul Cieremans looks to pass as Ethan Baca, No. 3, waves for the ball in the quarterfinal playoff game against Cleveland.

In the third quarter, Cleveland found the endzone on the first play from scrimmage when Perry took off on an 80-yard touchdown run.

The Tigers got on the board when Cieremans ran up the middle, cut to the outside and went 57-yards for the last touchdown of his Tigers’ career.

“I always love to score,” said Cieremans, but “I’m upset about the final score.”

Los Lunas would get on the board again when senior Kaden Bell kicked a 39-yard field goal in swirling winds to make the final score 49-9.

Senior kicker Kaden Bell hugs a teammate after his final game for the Tigers.

In their first year in 6A, the Tigers’ finished with a 7-5 record, a district championship, and a first-round playoff victory over Cibola.

“We’re proud of our guys, sticking together when things were rough,” Henington said about a difficult stretch during the season.

There were plenty of hugs and tears after the game, especially from the LLHS seniors.

“This program has been one of the greatest things for me, helping me to become the athlete that I am,” said kicker Bell.

Cieremans put it another way.

“I love the town, everything about Los Lunas, but I’m sad for football to end.”

“I love all of them,” defensive tackle Andrew Maldonado said about his teammates and coaches. “It’s been a great experience. I love all my brothers. I just wish it would have lasted longer.”

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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.