There are probably a dozen ways to describe the Los Lunas Tigers 31-14 first round 6A playoff victory over Cibola.
“Embarrassing” is what Los Lunas High School head football coach Greg Henington called a game that featured dozens of penalties, numerous pushing and shoving matches and was called early.
The bad blood between the two teams started to simmer when the Tigers and Cougars played Sept. 29. Cibola won 36-30 in a contest that featured several controversial calls and, according to Los Lunas players, taunts from Cibola.
“We knew it was going to be a little hairy, but not to this level,” Henington said. “That part is embarrassing for myself and for (Cibola) coach Howe as well. That’s not what we want.”
When the teams were paired in the first-round playoff game at Nusenda Community Stadium, the ninth-seeded Tigers were pumped. It showed in the rematch with Los Lunas taking an early 14-0 lead on the strength of a dominating running game, capped off with touchdowns by Nicholas Torres and Cash Aragon.
During that early stretch, Los Lunas took some chances, converting on fourth down and recovering an onside kick.
“We really wanted to come out aggressive,” Henington said, “but it’s about the kids executing. They made the plays when they needed to.”
Eighth-seeded Cibola managed to tie the game on the strength of its passing attack. However, interceptions by the Tigers’ Marco Perez and Lorenzo Ibarra plus a touchdown run by quarterback Paul Cieremans put Los Lunas in front at halftime 21-14.
The rest of the game was marred by scuffles, penalties on both teams and long delays. In the third quarter, the Tigers concluded the scoring with a Fabian Trujillo touchdown and a field goal by Kaden Bell.
There was not a full-fledged brawl between the teams, but it came close. Midway through the second half administrators from Los Lunas Schools and Albuquerque Public Schools agreed the players would not shake hands after the game to avoid any more outbreaks. It never got to that point.
After a Cibola player grabbed a Tiger from behind and threw him to the ground, game officials had seen enough. They called both head coaches to midfield, had them shake hands and ended the game with about 1:30 left in the fourth quarter with Los Lunas in front 31-14. That would be the official final score.
“It was a rough one,” Tiger Aragon said. “It was definitely a dogfight out there.”
Next up is a quarterfinal showdown with star power — Los Lunas, the 2021 5A title winner which moved up in class, against two-time defending 6A champion and top-seeded Cleveland.
“It will probably be the toughest game of the season. We’ll just have to do our best,” Aragon said.
“It’s going to be tough as hell. Everybody knows what Cleveland is,” said Henington. “We know what we’re getting into. We’re going to fight our butt off, that’s for sure.”
The Tigers will play at V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho at 7 p.m. Friday to face the Storm.
Valencia High School
Once again the Valencia Jaguars come up short in a close game, this time in the first round of the 4A playoffs. The Jaguars lost at Aztec 12-6 to end the season with a 4-7 record.
“Defensively, we played really well,” said VHS head coach Wesley Shank, who announced his resignation on Monday. “We just couldn’t get in the end zone.”
One Valencia touchdown was negated because of a penalty. Shank said the team didn’t meet expectations this year.
“I’m at a loss for words on the season,” he said.
Late in the game, a Jaguar player was injured with what Shank said was a concussion. The player, who Shank didn’t identify, gave a “thumbs up” as he was placed in an ambulance. The player was hospitalized overnight and released the next day. The coach said he is expected to make a full recovery.
Belen High School
The Belen Eagles’ season came to an end with a 42-0 road loss against Deming in the first round of the 5A playoffs. BHS finishes the season with a 2-9 record.
The Wildcats forced three Eagle turnovers in the first half, including a fumble recovery on the first play of the game, Belen trailed 20-0 at the break.
“We drove the ball all night,” said Belen head coach Kevin Peña, “but our turnovers led to their touchdowns.”
Despite the record, Peña said he enjoyed his first year as head coach.
“It was a positive for me — the kids played their hearts out.”
Peña hopes to spend more time on campus in the future. He wants to start a conditioning class and an off-season weight training program
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.