Los Lunas steamrolled Belen 52-0 on Saturday afternoon to clinch the Tigers’ second straight district championship, and win their third straight over the Eagles.

“Even when we gave up a couple of big plays our defense responded and held them out of the endzone,” head coach Jeremy Maupin said. “Our offense was clicking. There were some little things that we’ve still got to get cleaned up but ultimately I thought it was a pretty clean game and it was what we wanted to do today and how we wanted to do it.”

Defensive end Bryce Santana lead the way offensively for the Tigers with three touchdowns, including one from 21-yards out on fourth-and-one.

It took the Tigers a mere 12 seconds to get on the board as Andrue Garcia returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. LLHS inserted a new kickoff return before the game to try and exploit some of the things they saw on film, and it paid off immediately.

The first drive for the Eagles served as an omen of what was to come, as Anthony Roybal slipped receiving the kickoff and fell at the two-yard-line.

Belen quarterback Ben Hirschfeld throws a pass during Saturday’s game against Los Lunas. The Eagles lost 52-0 and finished the regular season with a 3-7 record.
Cameron Goeldner | News-Bulletin photos

BHS failed to gain a single yard and had to punt, giving the Tigers a short field they took advantage of with the second touchdown of the game, the first for Santana, who punched it into the endzone from the four-yard line to make it 14-0 with 9:07 remaining in the first quarter.

On its next drive, Belen was able to move the ball a little bit, picking up a first down, but it all came crashing down as a pass from backup quarterback Ben Hirschfeld was deflected and Los Lunas safety Joseph Klaus came down with it and returned it to the three-yard line, setting up Santana again, making it 20-0 after the extra point was blocked.

“It was great (to be able to contribute on both sides of the ball), it’s my last regular-season game since I’m a senior,” Santana said. “I just want to be able to do the best I can and it’s nice I was able to help put 52 up on the scoreboard.”
+12 Game of the Week Gallery: Los Lunas vs Belen

The only scoring opportunity that Belen had would come on its next drive and be set up by a perfectly executed QB sneak that gave the Eagles the ball inside the 20-yard-line for the first and only time of the game.

However, Hirschfeld threw his second interception, this time to Isaac Felts, and the Tigers got the ball back.

LLHS benefitted from a pair of Eagle penalties on the drive that came on the same play.

A BHS defensive back was whistled for pass interference as he got the receiver before the ball did and never turned around to locate it, and a coach on the Belen sideline was so upset with the call that he received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving LLHS 25 free yards.

Two plays later, Cesar Ortega Meza scored on the ground from the three-yard line to make it 27-0, the final score of the first quarter.

Tigers quarterback Kade Benavidez scored his first touchdown of the game on the first play of the second quarter, pushing the lead to 33-0.

On the Eagles next drive, Daniel Hanson came in at quarterback, replacing Hirschfeld. He didn’t have much more success and threw an interception to Felts on his first drive.

Benavidez finally had his first incompletion of the game on the drive, and the Eagles were close to getting a stop until Santana made an appearance.

On fourth-and-one and the 21-yard line, Santana went nearly untouched into the endzone thanks to a huge opening created by the offensive line and made it 40-0 with 7:37 left in the second quarter.

Benavidez got his second touchdown of the game with a minute left in the half, pushing the lead to 46-0 after the extra point was blocked.

Belen received the second-half kickoff but went three-and-out again, and the punt was blocked to set up the Los Lunas offense, which was lead by freshman quarterback Paul Cieremans, inside the 20-yard-line.

Cieremans kept on the play and ran it in from 16-yards out to push the lead over 50 points and end the game with 9:06 left in the third quarter.

“That’s what we really set out to do,” Maupin said. “I thought we’ve had good weeks of practice. We told (the players) we just finished season two and now we’re going into season three, the one that matters the most. Hopefully, we can carry this momentum and get ready to go play some football.”

The win officially cemented the Tigers as district champions and they finished the regular season at 8-2, 3-0 in district action. The Eagles drop to 3-8, 2-1 on the season. In district play, Los Lunas beat its opponents by a combined score of 162-7.

The Tigers earned the No. 2 seed in the Class 5A playoff bracket, which was released late Saturday night.

This gives LLHS a bye this week before it takes on the winner of the Capital-Artesia game either Friday, Nov. 15 or Saturday, Nov. 16.

Belen was able to sneak into the field as well, earning the No. 12 seed. The Eagles will travel to Deming, a team that beat them 34-14 earlier this season, on Friday night at 7 p.m. looking to pull off the upset.

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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.