ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As playoff talk begins to rev up around the state, we’ll devote our energy this week to the bubble teams in Class 5A.
As is usually the case, there are some interesting storylines developing among the schools who figure to be scratching and clawing for the last couple of playoff berths in Class 5A.
As I see it, there are 11 locks for the playoffs, and four teams fighting for the 12th and final spot.
The most fascinating case study might be West Mesa.
The Mustangs could, and perhaps should, finish 6-4. But, they could easily miss the playoffs — much like Valley did two years ago after a 6-4 regular season.
The Mustangs (4-4), who were demolished this week by Highland 42-12, are sorely lacking a win over a quality team. Oñate does not qualify. Neither does Rio Grande. A win over Cibola is nice, but not attention grabbing. The other win, against Atrisco Heritage Academy, doesn’t do much for West Mesa’s chances, either, since AHA is (for now) an unranked 4A program.
West Mesa is squarely on the playoff bubble. I didn’t have the Mustangs in my top 12 last week, and they sure don’t deserve to be there now.
From last week, I’ve only given one exit visa from my top 12: Volcano Vista.
The 2-5 Hawks are worse off than West Mesa. They beat winless Oñate and (now) two-win Valley. That’s it. Volcano Vista probably has to win twice in district to get into the playoffs. Yes, the Hawks’ schedule has been brutal (Las Cruces, Manzano, La Cueva, Eldorado, Sandia). But that argument likely won’t aid the cause enough.
After Sandia walloped Volcano Vista on Friday, it seems obvious that all four teams from 2-5A will qualify for state. The Matadors (4-3) needed this win; even if they go 0-3 in district and finish 4-6, they clearly deserve a berth.
The only newcomer this week is Cibola, a school that merits closer examination.
The Cougars are 2-5, but they’ve beaten Highland and Sandia (both playoff-caliber teams) and that will count for something. But, for that to really matter, Cibola can’t afford to finish worse than third place in 1-5A.
If, for example, Cibola finishes third in 1-5A — and beats Volcano Vista head-to-head along the way — the committee may have to take a good look at the Cougars. If Cibola finishes last in four-team 1-5A, the Cougars are toast.
I can hear the West Mesa faithful already crying foul. The Mustangs did, in fact, beat Cibola. Indeed, one possible scenario the selection committee may face is a choice between Cibola — a possible 3-7 team against 5A’s most grueling schedule — and West Mesa — a likely 6-4 team which feasted, by comparison, on a MUCH weaker schedule.
Another team trying to fight its way in is Alamogordo (4-4). Like West Mesa and Volcano Vista, however, Alamo doesn’t have a win that catches the eye. The Tigers look like they’ll finish 5-5, if they split with Las Cruces and Oñate, and be the third-place team in 3-5A.
Right now, from this keyboard, Cibola is a better option than West Mesa, Alamogordo or Volcano Vista. (And this is the point in the proceedings when I remind everyone that I don’t have a vote on who goes and who doesn’t.)
But, should Cibola finish last in 1-5A, that would almost certainly lock up a playoff berth for West Mesa.
After Week 8, it’s obvious that Cibola, West Mesa, Alamo and Volcano Vista are the four teams fighting for the one last spot.
So, here are my 5A top 12 as of today:
1. Cleveland; 2. Las Cruces; 3. Manzano; 4. Carlsbad; 5. Mayfield; 6. La Cueva; 7. Eldorado; 8. Rio Rancho; 9. Sandia. 10. Clovis; 11. Cibola; 12. Highland.
My projected first-round matchups would be Highland at Mayfield (winner against Carlsbad); Cibola at La Cueva (winner against Manzano); Clovis at Eldorado (winner against Las Cruces); and Sandia at Rio Rancho (winner against Cleveland).
Remember, teams must be seeded so that district rivals don’t meet in the first round.
HOME COOKIN’ ALWAYS TASTES GOOD: I’m not an official, so I won’t pretend to know that I know how to do their job. It’s a thankless job, especially at the high school level.
But one thing was fairly clear Saturday night in Manzano’s 28-20 win over Clovis — that officiating crew got in the way out of the outcome.
In 26 years of watching prep football, I can honestly say this: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a visiting team in Albuquerque so glaringly damaged by flags. To recap, Clovis had two long touchdowns erased by penalties on consecutive plays late in the fourth quarter, and were flagged FIVE times on that drive alone.
To be fair — and every metro-area football coach who has taken a team to Leon Williams Stadium in Clovis can vouch for this — the Wildcats have had more than their fair share of officiating calls go in their favor with hometown stripes working the game.
But this one leaves a sour taste.
— This article appeared on page B5 of the Albuquerque Journal