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New Mexico Stars are playoff-bound

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New Mexico’s Dexter Manley acknowledges a fan after scoring a touchdown during the Stars’ 60-47 victory over Rio Grande Valley on Saturday at the Santa Ana Star Center. The victory over the first-place Sol secured a Lone Star Football League playoff berth for the Stars. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico’s Dexter Manley acknowledges a fan after scoring a touchdown during the Stars’ 60-47 victory over Rio Grande Valley on Saturday at the Santa Ana Star Center. The victory over the first-place Sol secured a Lone Star Football League playoff berth for the Stars. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

RIO RANCHO – After a stormy outset, it turned out to be a glorious night for the New Mexico Stars on Saturday at the Santa Ana Star Center.

The Stars’ 60-47 comeback victory over the first-place Rio Grande Valley Sol in their season finale, combined with San Angelo’s 74-59 win over host Amarillo, means New Mexico has clinched a Lone Star Football League playoff berth.

The Stars (7-5) and Amarillo (5-6) had been battling for the third and final postseason spot in the five-team league. And since the Venom held the head-to-head point-differential tiebreaker, NewMexico needed to finish clear of Amarillo in the standings to advance. Thus, the Venom’s season-ender at West Texas next week will have no bearing on the standings.

“They’re a heck of a good football team, Rio Grande Valley, and (coach) CoCo Blalock is a class act. So, this really feels good,” Stars coach Dominic Bramante said of the game, played before an announced crowd of 1,710. “Now the new season starts.”

That “new season” is the first round of the postseason, July 5 on the road against the second-seeded San Angeio Bandits.

“San Angelo said that they want us, so, they got us,” Bramante said.

The mindset of the Rio Grande Valley Sol entering Saturday’s game was to play hard but don’t get hurt. After all, the Sol had already clinched the first seed in the Lone Star Football League playoffs and had nothing to gain in the standings.

Early on, quarterback Nate Davis, who had seven TD throws in the game, guided the Sol to a 20-7 lead in the second quarter. The hurt was all on the Stars to that point.

But from there, Stars QB Andrew McGlory and the team’s defense took over.

Two McGlory scoring throws to Dexter Manley, covering 31 and 9 yards, created a 20-20 tie at halftime.

Later, a McGlory run for a score, a third TD throw to Manley covering 6 yards and a 15-yard TD pass to James Cleveland made it 40-33 in favor of New Mexico.

Then came the score that essentially was the backbreaker for the Sol.

Davis, who had thrown for scores on Rio Grande’s two previous snaps, dropped back under heavy pressure and lost possession of the ball when hit by New Mexico’s Roosevelt Falls.

“By the time I hit him,” Falls said, “he had his arm back to throw. The ball hit my shoulder pad and I picked up the ball after it hit the ground and ran it in.”

Falls’ run covered 10 yards.

That touchdown, plus a 2-point conversion after a botched center snap on the kick attempt, gave New Mexico a 48-33 edge.

The Stars’ lead grew to 54-33 on a 45-yard interception return for a score by ex-Lobo Emmanuel McPhearson.

The Sol scored twice more and the Stars once to make it 60-47 midway in the final quarter.

TITLE GAME: The winner of that first-round game in San Angelo advances to the LSFL title game at Rio Grande Valley in Hidalgo, Texas, on July 12. That would be a 17-hour bus ride for the Stars – one way.

FAMILIAR FACE: Nose tackle Andy Endemann, a New Mexico Highlands alum who was a stalwart on last year’s Stars squad, returned to the team for the finale.

IDLE TIME: Whereas the Stars have to wait two weeks for their next game, the Sol and coach Blalock will be doing them one better. Its next game will be in three weeks.

“We’ll give them a week off,” Blalock said of his team, “and then we’ll come back and start game-planning for the two teams (in the first round). We’ll be going to the towns within an hour (of Hidalgo) promoting the game, too, so hopefully in the first round we can fill the building.”

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