LOS LUNAS — The Los Lunas High School Tigers football team is the 2021 5A State Champions after defeating the Artesia Bulldogs by a final score of 40-28 this past Saturday in Los Lunas.
Los Lunas quarterback Paul Cieremans ran for three touchdowns and passed for another, while running back Karlos Cieremans ran for two touchdowns to lead the Tigers to victory.
“Couldn’t be anymore proud of them,” Los Lunas head coach Greg Henington said after the game. “It feels amazing.”
The contest began with the Tigers defense forcing a punt on Artesia’s opening drive of the game and quickly taking the ball down and scoring on offense.
Starting at their own 45-yard line, the Tigers needed just four plays to find pay dirt.
Set up by a Paul Cieremans 35 yard run to the Artesia 3-yard line, Karlos Cieremans found the endzone on his first carry of the game.
A botched snap prevented the Tigers from kicking an extra point, so it stayed 6-0 less than two minutes into the contest.
Later in the first quarter, Karlos Cieremans punched it in again, this time from six yards out, capping a nine play, 90-yard drive.
Kaden Bell was then able to kick the extra point through the uprights to give Los Lunas a 13-0 lead with 2:20 to go in the first quarter.
On the ensuing Artesia drive, the Bulldogs needed just one play to get back into the game.
Bulldog receiver Zaden Lopez caught a tunnel screen from quarterback Nate Taylor and took it 66 yards up the sideline for a touchdown that closed the gap to 13-7.
After recovering an Artesia onside kick attempt, it took six plays and a little more than a minute for Los Lunas to find the endzone once again.
On a second down and 15 from their own 40-yard line, Paul Cieremans hooked up with Emilio Mora III for a touchdown that gave Los Lunas a 20-7 lead following Bell’s extra point.
The contest got more interesting in the third quarter.
After forcing a Los Lunas punt, Artesia closed the gap once again. This time it was Taylor finding receiver Peyton Greathouse from 14 yards out for a touchdown that cut the Los Lunas lead to 20-14 with 5:21 remaining in the third quarter.
On the next Los Lunas drive, it was Paul Cieremans once again finding pay dirt, this time with his legs.
On a first and 10 at the Artesia 29, Cieremans kept it himself on a quarterback keeper and broke several Bulldog tackles to reach the endzone.
A failed two-point conversion made it 26-14 Tigers. That would be the score at the end of the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, with the home crowd on the edge of their seats, Artesia closed once again thanks to their passing game.
A long, 17-play drive for Artesia was capped off by Taylor, finding Kody Watson from 10 yards out to cut the deficit to 26-21 with just a little more than nine minutes to play.
After the two teams traded fumbles, the Tigers would score once again.
Paul Cieremans used his legs once again, this one from five yards out. The Tigers would add a two-point conversion to take a 34-21 lead with five minutes to go.
Artesia, though, still wouldn’t go away as it took just 26 seconds for the Bulldogs to find the endzone and close again.
On the score, Taylor would find Zaden Lopez again, this time from 30 yards out. That touchdown closed the gap to 34-28 with 4:38 to play.
After a Los Lunas punt, Artesia had 2:50 to go to try and drive for the game winning score.
Their hopes came up short, as Phillip Finley was stopped short on fourth and four at the Los Lunas 41-yard line and just more than a minute left to play.
On the next Los Lunas play, Paul Cieremans would keep it himself and much to the delight of the home crowd, he found daylight and outran the Bulldog defense for the touchdown to seal the win.
Artesia would throw an interception on their next drive and two Cieremans kneel-downs later, Los Lunas captured the 5A State Championship title.
The Tigers end the 2021 season undefeated, 13-0.
“This is huge for our community,” Los Lunas Schools athletic director Wilson Holland said following the game. “When our football team does well, the school year goes well. It’s a trickle down to other sports and things in the community.”
“This is surreal,” Paul Cieremans said after the game. “This is the greatest feeling in my life, so far. This team played hard for four quarters, and it’s just unreal right now.”
Fans were packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the stands of Willie Chavez Stadium at Saturday’s 5A State Championship, where the Los Lunas Tigers hung tough and beat the Artesia Bulldogs for the blue trophy.
With both parking and seating for 3,000 filling up fast, dozens of fans chose to stand throughout the contest, marking themselves as diehard Tiger fans.
Nicole Bassett, her husband, Chris, and their daughter, Danika, stood at the fence below the stands to support the Tigers, something they’ve done all season.
“Our son got to dress out for the game,” Nicole said. “They played their hearts out. It was such a great game. I love the small-town spirit.”
Now that the season is done, Nicole laughed and said she didn’t know what to do to with her Saturdays.
“We’ve been to games all year — C team, JV, varsity,” she said. “It’s all been awesome.”
A member of the LLHS Class of 1985, Raymer Jaramillo and his wife, Monica, have been following the Tigers’ season closely and have been coming out to support the son of a friend.
“It was an awesome game,” said Raymer. “The back and forth. I’m really proud of them.”
A former Tigers assistant coach under former head coach Jeremy Maupin, Leif Emblem said he was very proud of the team’s accomplishment.
“The seniors this year was the first group I coached when they were freshmen. I am super proud of them,” Emblem said. “This is a great way to end their time in 5A.
“Moving up, so long as they don’t think of themselves as 5A going to 6A, they’ll be fine. They deserve to be there. They have the talent in the players and the coaching staff as well. This is such a great moment for them.”
(News-Bulletin Assistant Editor Julia M. Dendinger contributed to this article.)