Thursday showdown: 1 vs. 2, Cleveland vs. Eldorado

If the NFL season opener between Atlanta and Philadelphia is not for you, then perhaps Wilson Stadium is best place to plant yourself  Thursday night.

New Mexico’s No. 1-ranked (Cleveland) and No. 2-ranked (Eldorado) prep football teams will share the stage in a huge Class 6A showdown to begin Week 3 of the 2018 season.

The Eagles and Storm, both 2-0, kick off at 7 p.m. This will be Eldorado’s home opener. The Eagles are coming off a 70-42 road thrashing of Las Cruces last Friday.

“There is definitely a sense of ‘how are we gonna respond?'” Eldorado coach Charlie Dotson said. “And I’m definitely worried about that a little bit.”

Worry? His counterpart, Storm coach Heath Ridenour, has had more than his fair share on this short week for both schools.

Yes, his junior running back, Dorian Lewis, has been outstanding through the first two games, with 387 yards and five rushing touchdowns.

“He runs with speed and power, and when you have that combination, it’s dangerous,” Dotson said.

But Ridenour’s defense will have its hands full trying to contain Eldorado senior quarterback Gabe Smith, who accounted for nine touchdowns last week. He rushed for 310 yards and five scores, and threw for 306 yards (on just nine completions) and four TDs.

“You just gotta limit the amount of carries he gets,” Ridenour said. “We have to do a good job of team tackling. We can’t just tackle the guy one-on-one.”

Ridenour, himself a former QB, said Smith pretty much foils any defensive scheme with his improvisational skills.

“I don’t think anyone has a formula to stop him,” he said. “He’s the ‘X’ factor when plays break down, his ability to turn them into something. Which you can’t plan for.”

Cleveland has victories over Oñate and El Paso Franklin. The Eagles smashed West Mesa in Week 1.

“They’re as good as advertised,” Dotson said of Cleveland. “We have to be able to stop the run. That’s the bottom line. That’s always been our issue. Can we stop the run?”

This is the first meeting between Eldorado and Cleveland since the Storm topped the Eagles in the 2015 state championship game.

There are two other key matchups at Wilson Stadium this week, with No. 3 La Cueva taking on No. 5 Las Cruces on Friday night, and No. 4 Centennial playing No. 10 Manzano on Saturday afternoon.

The 5A slate is highlighted by No. 2 Belen visiting No. 3 Artesia as the teams that met in last year’s state final meet once more at Bulldog Bowl with Artesia looking to avoid its first 0-3 start in 35 years.

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