LAS CRUCES — The Manzano Monarchs took that next step.
But not the final step.
“Our theme all year, and I said it at our banquet last year, is one more step,” Manzano football coach Chad Adcox said. “And that’s what we did.”
The Monarchs survived an early body blow delivered by Las Cruces, scored a crucial touchdown on the final play of the first half, then turned things over to the defense in the second half as No. 1 Manzano advanced to the Class 6A state football championship game with a 28-10 victory over No. 4 Las Cruces on Friday night in the semifinals at the Field of Dreams.
“This is what we wanted,” said Manzano junior running back Xavier Ivey-Saud, who barrelled his way through Las Cruces for 194 yards on 32 carries, including a 21-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter. “We all had that feeling that we didn’t want what happened last year, so we took advantage of the opportunity.”
Manzano suffered a semifinal defeat a year ago to Rio Rancho.
This team, filled with veterans from that loss, ran their record to 12-0 as Manzano advanced to the state final for the third time in school history, after 1996 and 2010, seasons that both ended with losses to Mayfield.
Combined with La Cueva’s 37-34 overtime win over Cleveland on Friday, there will, at last, be an all-Albuquerque state championship game.
The Bears and the Monarchs will play Dec. 2 at 1 p.m. at Wilson Stadium, the second 1-vs.-2 matchup between these District 2-6A rivals this year. Manzano won 28-21 in early October.
The Monarchs were behind most of the first half Friday. Las Cruces took the opening kickoff 78 yards in five breezy plays, with Chase Chaloupek going over from the 1 just 2:12 into the game.
The Bulldawgs (10-2) were looking to double that lead later in the first quarter, but on a fourth-and-7 from the Manzano 12, Las Cruces rolled the dice, opting not to kick a field goal. It backfired, as Payton Ball was forced into an incomplete pass.
“That was huge,” Adcox said. “I told our kids before we walked out there, that they would come out with guns blazing. And we had to be ready to counter it.”
Manzano went 88 yards the other way for a touchdown on 10 plays; senior quarterback Jordan Byrd scored from the 5, but the PAT was pulled, leaving the Monarchs trailing 7-6. Momentum had turned, however.
“It’s not about getting hit,” Ivey-Saud said. “It’s about how hard you get hit, and keep going.”
The next time Las Cruces had a chance to kick, it didn’t gamble, and a field goal made it 10-6. But on the last play before halftime, Manzano seized the lead with a risky maneuver of its own as Adcox eschewed a field-goal try with 3 seconds left, instead throwing from the Las Cruces 4.
Byrd lofted a TD pass to 6-foot-4 junior Jack Blankenship, who went up over a shorter Bulldawgs’ defensive back to grab the touchdown. The play design called for Byrd to look for Andrew Erickson, and if he was double covered, to go to the other side where Blankenship was isolated with one-on-one coverage.
“Usually when coach calls on me, I get super nervous,” Blankenship admitted. “Because I don’t get the ball too much. But … I just said, ‘I’m ready for this.'”
Byrd added a 2-point run for a 14-10 Manzano halftime lead.
“I knew I was going for it the whole time,” Adcox said of the touchdown call. “We can’t even kick PATs very well right now.”
An interception of Ball by Manzano linebacker Alejandro Vallejos set up Ivey-Saud’s 21-yard scoring run for 21-10.
“That’s the toughest team I’ve ever played,” Vallejos said of the Bulldawgs.
Byrd added an insurance TD with 5:57 left in the fourth quarter.
“That’s a hell of a team,” Las Cruces coach Mark Lopez said.
MANZANO 28, LAS CRUCES 10
Manzano 0 14 7 7 — 28
Las Cruces 7 3 0 0 — 10
Scoring: LC, Chase Chaloupek 1 run (Jorge Figueroa kick); M, Jordan Byrd 5 run (kick failed); LC, Figueroa 26 FG; M, Jack Blankenship 4 pass from Byrd (Byrd run); M, Xavier Ivey-Saud 21 run (Cameron Herrera kick); M, Byrd 4 run (Herrera kick). Records: M 12-0; LC 10-2.
First downs: M 18; LC 18. Rushes-yards: M 49-296; LC 38-180. Passing: M 4-7-0—36; LC 6-18-1—108. Total offense: M 332; LC 288. Punts-avg.: M 1-50; LC 0-0. Fumbles-lost: M 1-1; LC 3-0. Penalties-yards: M 5-43; LC 3-24.