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Time for the cleats to hit the stripes

After months of working out in the cold morning dew and pumping iron in sweatbox weight rooms, it’s time for the cleats to hit the stripes as high school football is ready to kick off tonight around northern New Mexico. With the classification and district alignment upheavals in the state, there are some interesting opening weekend games. Here are capsule roundups of this weekend’s openers:

All games tonight unless noted

Santa Fe at Robertson  7 p.m.

This is a classic case of the haves and the have-nots. But, in some ways, the past few years have been disappointing for both football squads, for different reasons. Of course, the Demons would love to have the kinds of disappointments the perennially strong Cardinals have had to face.

Santa Fe, in Class 5A this season, is mired in a 33-game losing streak and could threaten its school mark for futility of 37 straight set back in the 1990s. The Demons are slowly getting better, building up numbers and turning the culture around under coach Andrew Martinez, former defensive coordinator at St. Michael’s.

But they still have a long way to go to catch up to Robertson, which has been one of the premier programs in the state, going to four consecutive 4A championship games. The fact is, however, that the Cardinals pulled a Buffalo Bills, and came up empty in each of those games. Now, the Birds are in are 3A and should once again be one of the leading contenders for playing on the season’s final weekend. The teams did not play last season and the pick here is Robertson 41-7.

Pojoaque Valley at Capital  7 p.m.

Capital’s Luke Padilla, left, and Rogelio Cruz were lifting weights in June getting ready for football season. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

The Jaguars present no easy task for the 4A Elks, who just this week had assistant coach Pat Mares elevated to head coach. Mares has been running the team’s summer workouts for about a month following the sudden departure of the prior head coach. Capital is itching for the season to start after turning in a strong offensive performance in the playoff opener last season against Los Lunas – the Jags feel like there is unfinished business after scoring 31 against the Tigers.

Capital is not loaded with a bunch of seniors, but it has plenty of quality players that should have it contending for the District 2-5A title. Pojoaque, meanwhile, coming off a 1-9 season, is slotted into a tough district and has a disappointing dearth of players in a program that has little tradition. The teams did not meet last season, but the Jaguars have little trouble chasing down the Elks 34-0.

St. Michael’s at Taos  1:30 p.m., Saturday

This is the marquee matchup of the opening weekend, without question. Former district mates, the teams are now in different classifications, but each should make deep runs into the postseason.

The Horsemen are coming off a disappointing first-round playoff loss and feel like they underachieved with a high-scoring team that had lost only one regular season game. St. Mike’s in Class 3A will be finding itself offensively, but defensively, the Horsemen knock shoulder pads with the best of them. The Tigers reached the quarterfinals a year ago and there is every expectation that they will go farther than that in Class 4A this year behind a strong line and quality playmakers across the board.

Speed will be the Taos calling card and it will burn a lot of teams, St. Mike’s included. Look for the Tigers to make up for last year’s 41-21 loss with a tough 21-13 victory.

Española Valley at Los Alamos  7 p.m.

Always rivals, usually district mates, the Sundevils and Hilltoppers open the season in what could be a mighty entertaining opening-night clash.

Despite coming off a season of upheaval following a midseason coaching change and a 2-8 finish, there is optimism surrounding Class 4A Española as the Sundevils welcome back the most successful coach in program history, Miguel Medina. After guiding Española to its only district title and home playoff game in a 9-2 season in 2015, he left amid ongoing school district administration shenanigans. The Sundevils will be young, but there is far more on the roster than when Medina first entered the scene.

Los Alamos is quite the bastion of stability, but the 5A ‘Toppers have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons. With a strong returning cast of skill players, Los Alamos should have enough to record a similar result to last season when it hung on for a 21-20 win. Expect the Hilltoppers to climb atop Española 24-18.

West Las Vegas at Moriarty  7 p.m.

Junior quarterback John Balizan of West Las Vegas. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

Another marquee opener, the Dons have quickly gained confidence as their program has progressed from downtrodden to 3A contender in a short span. West Las Vegas has all the ingredients necessary to make a serious run deep into the playoffs and a season-opening win against the 4A Pintos would be a big step in that direction.

A bevy of quality, speedy playmakers will make the Dons dangerous as they try to elude the power of Moriarty. The Pintos won a year ago 33-19 in the opener, but that result should be reversed this season. The call is for the Dons to get some revenge and a tight 30-28 victory.

Santa Fe Indian School vs. Cuba  7 p.m.

Even before this season starts, the 3A Braves appear better prepared than ever after the beginnings of a summer program. Breaking in a new quarterback, the offseason work will be crucial for the team’s success this year. SFIS was actually the surprise early team starting off last season 4-0 before losing the final six. Those wins included a season-opening 46-6 thrashing of the 3A Rams. The Braves open in a similar manner, 35-10.

Escalante vs. Tucumcari  7 p.m.

Escalante senior running back Anthony Ulibarr. (Courtesy of Roman Martinez Jr.)

The Lobos are returning to 2A, where they won the state championship in 2014 and 2015. Escalante is incorporating some players from Coronado on its roster, but the Lobos were already expected to be one of the title contenders. The big question mark will be the team’s line, which will be among the youngest in the state. The Rattlers, however, are not really in much of a position to challenge Escalante, even though they made the playoffs last year despite a 2-8 record. The Lobos put a season-opening 28-7 hurting on Tucumcari last season and this season’s will be larger at 35-7.

McCurdy vs. Cloudcroft  1 p.m. Saturday

Bereft of experience, the Bobcats struggled last season, a year after making a nice little run into the 3A quarterfinals. Back in 2A now, McCurdy has some size, strength and speed that should keep it fairly competitive against most teams not named Escalante. Opening against the Bears will be a nice test for the Bobcats to see where they can make a good showing against a playoff team. Given the home-field advantage, McCurdy 14-8.

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