The football players are down to a fearsome four in each class and three local teams are still waving the flag for the North. But all three are underdogs (according to seeding) and all three must win on the road to reach next week’s championship game.
No. 3 Taos (10-1) at No. 2 Portales (8-3)
Saturday, 1 p.m.
Last week: Taos beat No. 6 Lovington 55-7; Portales beat No. 7 Grants 64-32
Tigers coach Art Abreu Jr. last week got to erase a long-standing debt owed since his senior year of high school to the Lovington Wildcats. This week, he’s got a more recent payback that’s due.
“I got to right one wrong last week,” he said. “And this year we’re trying to do it again after Portales knocked us out of the playoffs last year.”
Knocked out is the key phrase as the Rams won that game 41-11 while getting an education in the process. But this year’s Taos squad is bigger, tougher and meaner.
“At that time, all we could do was learn,” Abreu said. “We got to work right away, we broke down the film and realized this is what it takes to win in the quarterfinals. Now, this year, we’re getting after it a little bit more. We really learned a lot about ourselves, where we had to grow, how we had to grow, how we had to go about the state playoffs. It’s not the regular season, it’s the playoffs. It’s a whole new lease on life. We really have grown and it showed on Saturday.”
This is a different Rams team, as well. While Taos is loaded with seniors who have been key players for several years, Portales has had to restock after losing a number of important seniors.
That in no way means the Rams are any less dangerous.
Quarterback Julian Urioste threw for 1,530 yards and 12 touchdowns, while adding another 990 yards and 16 TDs on the ground. Six of those passing scores went to Kellan Hightower, who had 638 yards on 23 catches.
“They’re still option heavy, and they run it out of spread the spread offense,” Abreu said. “But they make sure the corners are awake by throwing vertically. You have to make sure you’re filling the correct gaps.”
No. 5 Robertson (10-2) at No. 1 Hope Christian (11-0)
Friday 7 p.m., Milne Stadium
Last week: Robertson beat No. 4 St. Michael’s 28-27; Hope beat No. 9 Tularosa 67-14
The Cardinals needed a couple of late touchdowns to come back and beat rival St. Mike’s last week. But coach Leroy Gonzalez knows the misfires his squad overcame early in that game may prove fatal in this one.
“The main thing is we have to play within ourselves,” he said. “Whatever they give us, we have to take advantage of. We can’t miss opportunities early on this team.”
In the Huskies, Robertson is facing a veteran team with strong skill players in quarterback Nick Henry (1,358 yards, 21 TDs) and the versatile Vince Quezada (336 yards passing, 335 yards rushing, 570 yards receiving with 18 total scores).
“He’s an Arjay Ortiz type of player,” Gonzalez said of Quezada, comparing him to the former Cardinals quarterback who was an elusive home run hitter. “We have to make sure we know where he’s at all times. Make sure that, wherever he’s at, there are certain things to do and we have to recognize that.”
The best defense is for Robertson to hold the ball and grind out time-consuming drives.
“Everybody knows what we do,” Gonzalez said. “I think we’ve been trying to do it all year – slow the team down. With Arjay, we could score any time. Now, we have to drive the ball, run it, go three or four yards at a time and shorten the time of the game.”
No. 6 West Las Vegas (8-4) at No. 2 Dexter (9-2)
Saturday 1 p.m.
Last week: West Las Vegas beat No. 3 Socorro 28-14; Dexter beat No. 7 Hatch Valley 35-14
If there was one benefit from the Dons playing the Warriors last week, it was getting a good look at their next opponent.
The Demons “are pretty similar to Socorro, size and skill position wise,” said West Las Vegas coach Adrian Gonzales. “This will be another interesting game, I think.”
The Demons run their offense through quarterback Jarren Amaro (1,756, 21 TDs passing, 421 yards, seven TDs rushing) and running back Nick Cobos (823 yards and 7 TDs). Dexter overall possesses a powerful ground game that piled up more than 2,500 yards.
But Gonzales likes the way the Dons look against them.
“I like our matchup,” he said. “I liked it last week. They were bigger than us, but we used our conditioning and our quickness to our advantage. I like our up-front play. We’re going to try and attack that, offensively.”