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The real playoffs begin

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Some would say that now that there are just eight teams remaining, the real playoffs begin. And not surprisingly, of those eight teams left in Class 4A, fully half of them hail from the ultra-difficult District 2/5. As we get into the nitty-gritty of the playoffs, here’s a look at the matchups and what to expect this week.

No. 6 WEST LAS VEGAS at No. 3 ROBERTSON Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

So who’s ready for a little Meadow City mayhem? A backyard brawl? Maybe even a family feud of sorts?

That’s right, this is one that will split Las Vegas in half. Rend families and shatter relationships.

That’s because the last time these decidedly not-so-neighborly squads met in the playoffs was, well, never.

And so, oh, what a tasty treat this is going to be.

“This is about bragging rights, plus, plus, plus,” said Dons coach Adrian Gonzales. “I would say we’re focused more than anything. There’s more at stake now. It’s win or go home. Then there’s the whole East-West thing, Take II. In terms of the fans and people around, it doesn’t get any more heated than this.”

His counterpart a few miles away dropped almost the same words.

“Bragging rights, yes,” Cardinals coach Leroy Gonzalez. “If you lose in the regular season, that’s one thing, but if you lose in the playoffs, it’s much worse. I remember my last two playoff losses and those were in the finals.”

Robertson (9-1) is the decided favorite, playing at home, and winners of eight straight and a 12-1 mark dating back to 2004. And much of the West Las Vegas (7-4) coaching staff earned its stripes in Redbird crimson.

“I think West Las Vegas really turned the corner this year,” Gonzalez said. “They’re playing some pretty good football. What they’ve done in four years, that’s a pretty good deal. They’re pretty smart guys. They like what they do, and they study.”

The first time around three weeks ago, Robertson came away with a 51-21 win, but the game was close into the third quarter before mistakes got the best of the Dons.

“Hopefully, we’ve grown,” Gonzales said. “We learned that mistakes can put us in such a hole that we can’t crawl back out of it.”

While the result of that game was not what he wanted, the Cards’ Gonzales said it was important for his team.

“I think we saw that we started taking their best shot the first go around,” he said. “They know what to expect and the kids will be ready to play. We’re lucky enough to get a second shot against a team in the same season. It doesn’t happen very often.”

The simple factor that his teams are used to this type of atmosphere will be big, Gonzalez said.

“Experience in these types of games, I think that’s huge,” he said. “We’ve made runs the last four years. You know what it’s like when you’re playing with 3,000 or 4,000 people in the stands and it’s loud.”

No. 1 ST. MICHAEL’S vs. No. 8 HATCH VALLEY Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

As the top seed, for the Horsemen (9-1), there’s only one result that will truly satisfy: sticking another blue trophy on the shelf that has not had any new hardware since 2012.

“These guys know their goal is to win the blue trophy,” St. Mike’s coach Joey Fernandez said. “Anything short of that, it’s not going to be what they want.”

St. Michael’s defensive back Sebastian Alcaraz makes a tackle on Robertson running back Santiago Gonzales in a game the Horsemen won in October. The Cardinals meet crosstown rival West Las Vegas, while St. Mike’s faces Hatch Valley in Saturday’s quarterfinal playoff games. (Courtesy of Shannon Steve Aragon)

And the Horsemen are well positioned to do just that with a high-flying offense that feeds off the energy brought by senior leaders quarterback Antonio Gabaldon and slotback Joey Ferdandez Jr., the coach’s son.

Gabaldon has chucked for 2,413 yards and 27 touchdowns, with half of that production coming through Ferndandez, who has 1,230 receiving yards and 14 TDs.

Add in Isaac Chavez and Shawn Roybal, who combined for 650 yards and another nine scores, and the Horsemen can attack in waves through the air. And it’s certainly something Fernandez believes will be an advantage.

“One of the things I feel has been an advantage is, athletically, we have six-seven athletes on the outside, we can get the ball to in the air,” he said. “That’s not something that very many teams have. You can’t double one person or put your best defender on our best person because we have guys that can hurt you all over the field.”

The Bears (7-4), however, will try to control the ball through its running attack led by seniors Saul Trujillo (1,40 yards, 17 TDs) and Chandler Carson (767 yards, 11 TDs), who moved over midseason from quarterback in favor of freshman Oscar Gonzalez.

“Athletically, they have two really good athletes who when they get the ball in their hands, they move,” Fernandez said of Trujillo and Carson. “Those two guys, they do a really good job. Most of the time, what they’ve been known for is running the football and the last few games, they’ve been getting accustomed to getting the ball downfield by the pass also.”

No. 7 TAOS at No. 2 PORTALES 7 tonight

The Tigers (8-3), coming off a last-minute, heart-stopping, comeback victory last week, now face an even tougher task with the defending champion Rams (9-1).

“They’re a very good, very well-coached team,” said Taos coach Art Abreu Jr. “They represent a lot of different stuff. They like to spread the field and run the football. We have to come with it this week. We’ve got to make sure we tackle and keep gap sound. They’re long and lanky and quick. They know how to operate their offense and defense at a high level.”

All that being said, Abreu noted that he’s seen some trends on both sides of the ball that the Tigers just might be able to exploit.

“We’ll attack them the way we’ve attacked teams all year,” he said. “We do see some things that we can attack offensively. If we play what we call Tiger football, we should see ourselves in the ballgame.”

Especially coming off a thrilling victory, Abreu said.

“This week, we’ve had a great week of practice,” he said. “The kids were that much more energized. That next Saturday, we watched the film, did strength and conditioning; the guys were sore, but they had a different type of attitude and energy. Down 11 points and putting up 20 points in the fourth quarter, and hitting a fourth-and-8 play with 39 seconds left to score and win, it really helps out the mental side of things.”