Los Lunas, Belen and Valencia were dominated in the first round of the state high school football playoffs, each losing badly on the road. However, the Tigers, Eagles and Jaguars are already looking ahead to the 2024 season.
The word “bizarre” may be used too often to describe events and situations but in the case of Valencia’s 52-0 loss Friday at Bernalillo in the 4A playoffs, it fits.
The No. 5 seeded Spartans (8-3) scored every way possible against the No. 12 Jaguars: rushing, passing, an interception, a fumble, a safety and a field goal after three Bernalillo touchdowns were called back on the same drive.
“We honestly didn’t have a great week of practice,” VHS head coach LeDarrius Cage acknowledged.
Cage added it was “a domino effect,” that started with inexperienced players and lack of offensive consistency. “As coaches, we own some of that as well.”
Valencia (4-7) was also hampered by injuries before and during the game. Four of the Jaguars’ eight seniors were unable to suit up, including standout running back Danny Villegas.
The game went from bizarre to concerning when a few players scuffled in the second quarter. VHS senior lineman Andrew Rightly was among those pulled away from the confrontation. Rightly slowly walked off the field and collapsed on the sideline, complaining of back pain. After being treated by trainers, doctors and first responders, Rightly was taken by stretcher to an awaiting ambulance. No further update on Rightly’s condition was available.
The first half took more than an hour and a half to complete, with the teams combining for about 20 penalties. The yellow flags often resulted in long discussions between the officials.
After leading 46-0 at the half, Bernalillo scored on the first possession of the third quarter to end the contest on the 50-point mercy rule.
Despite the disappointing result, senior linebacker Tilden Brown thinks the future looks good for the Jaguars (4-7.)
“I feel we started a pretty good building block—It’s up to the underclassmen to build on that,” Brown said.
Cage said his first year as a head coach was “fun,” and he is looking to better days.
“If we stick with it, get bigger, faster, stronger in the weight room and put in the offseason work, we’ll be a team to look out for,” Cage said.
After a surprising loss at Clovis, which cost Los Lunas a district title and a high seeding, the No. 10 Tigers (7-4) were outclassed 42-6 Friday by No. 7 Las Cruces at the Field of Dreams in the 6A playoffs.
“We had trouble moving the ball,” LLHS coach Greg Henington summed up. “We had a lot of penalties.”
Las Cruces (6-5) was able to methodically chew up yardage on the ground and through the air to build a 28-0 halftime lead, extending it to 42-0 early in the fourth quarter.
LLHS used a touchdown pass with about two minutes left to avoid the shutout.
“As an entire program, we have a lot to learn about winning state playoff games and that starts at the top and all the way through,” Henington said.
While the Tigers have “some huge shoes to fill — we have a ton of respect for our senior class,” Henington believes there is talent returning. “We’re excited about this next wave of people getting their opportunity to be successful.
“How great they want to be is completely up to them. We (coaches) will do our best to show them the road map to get there, but they’ve got to decide if they really want to get this done.”
It only took a couple of minutes for No. 5 Deming to build a two-touchdown lead Friday at home against No. 12 Belen, on the way to a 40-3 victory in the opening round of the 5A playoffs.
Eagles’ second-year coach Kevin Peña knew it would be a challenge, calling the Wildcats “well coached and well disciplined.”
BHS (1-10) was hindered by too many first half penalties and immediately fell into a deep hole.
After giving up a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, the Eagles failed to cover the ball on the ensuing kickoff, leading to another Deming score.
“After that, we just couldn’t rally,” Peña noted.
Despite winning just one game, Peña is optimistic the Eagles’ fortunes can turnaround.
“I think we have a good group coming back,” and the freshmen “had a successful junior varsity season.”
Peña is also hoping the schedule will be more favorable.
“I think our schedule did us an injustice,” he said. “Belen is a football town that expects to win. We’re going to have to figure it out next year.”
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.