RIO RANCHO — Fin1shed.
La Cueva High School’s football team throttled — even manhandled — Cleveland in every way imaginable on Saturday afternoon, and, sparked by the brilliance of senior running back D’Andre Williams and a shut-down defense, the visiting, second-seeded Bears completed an undefeated season by drumming the top-ranked Storm 33-14 in the Class 6A state championship game.
“We just outclassed them today,” said La Cueva senior quarterback Dylan Summer, and that explained Saturday in a nutshell.
As the Bears (13-0) claimed their first title since 2009, there wasn’t anything they didn’t do better than Cleveland (12-1) on a biting, windy afternoon.
Williams rushed 37 times for 357 yards, including a game-clinching 71-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, and as a team the Bears gouged the Cleveland defense for 415 rushing yards.
“I did not know that,” Williams said when informed he had topped the 300-yard mark. “I was expecting over 200 yards. But 300? Damn, that’s something else.”
The La Cueva defense, meanwhile, stifled the state’s highest-scoring offense, holding Cleveland to seven points — the other score was a pick-six — and just 254 total yards. The Storm averages coming into Saturday were 47 points and 435 yards per game.
“They beat us. They played better than us,” Storm coach Heath Ridenour said. “They beat us on both sides of the ball.”
The Cleveland yardage total was less than half of what the Bears offense gained: 561 yards.
“This year, all sentences end the same — state championship for us,” La Cueva coach Brandon Back said. “We played a great game last week (against Centennial in the semifinals), and we played a great game this week. Our boys were just hungry.”
Manzano’s 14-7 win over La Cueva in last year’s state final fueled the last 12 months for the Bears. “Fin1sh” was the La Cueva motto throughout the offseason, and the Bears capped this perfect march with their best performance of the season.
And it was clear from the outset that La Cueva was going to make Cleveland chase.
With a 61-yard burst up the middle, Williams set up his own 8-yard TD run less than four minutes into the game. Two plays later, Cleveland turned the ball over for the first time in six weeks on a fumble at the end of a pass play.
The Bears, with only half a field to go, consolidated the Cleveland mistake with another score as Summer threw a brilliant 22-yard scoring pass to Prince Robertson for a 14-0 lead 6½ minutes into the game.
“From the very beginning, you could tell things weren’t going our way,” Ridenour said.
The La Cueva defensive front and linebackers took away Cleveland’s run game early, while the Bears’ offensive line was spectacular. La Cueva had repeated success getting Williams to the edge, where he cut upfield for one big gain after another.
The first-quarter rushing totals? La Cueva 135 yards, Cleveland 8. This was how it went all game, with the Bears pushing the Storm around along both lines of scrimmage.
“We wanted to show that we could run the ball,” senior left guard Ryan Malone said. “A lot of teams thought we couldn’t.”
Said Back: “Our offensive line might have blocked the best I’ve ever seen them.”
The lead swelled to 17-0 before Cleveland scored on Colten Madison’s 1-yard run midway through the second quarter. Summer threw a 50-yard scoring strike to Connor O’Toole 90 seconds later for a 24-7 bulge.
On the final play of the first half, the Storm appeared to score, but a TD pass to Tre Watson was negated by a holding penalty — a recurring theme for Cleveland.
Although Trey Ortega’s pick-six of Summer and 45-yard return midway through the third quarter put a charge into Cleveland and cut the deficit to 24-14, the momentum didn’t last.
La Cueva stuck to the ground, and eventually Williams hit Cleveland with that 71-yard TD and a 31-14 lead. The Storm misery extended to special teams, where a bad snap on a punt led to a safety.
no. 2 LA CUEVA 33, no. 1 CLEVELAND 14
La Cueva 14 10 0 9—33
Cleveland 0 7 7 0—14
First Quarter: LC—D’Andre Williams 8 run (Dominic Camacho kick), 8:25; LC—Prince Robertson 22 pass from Dylan Summer (Camacho kick), 5:32. Second Quarter: LC—Camacho 45 FG, 8:21; Cle—Colten Madison 1 run (William Gebhardt kick), 5:28; LC—Connor O’Toole 50 pass from Summer (Camacho kick), 3:54. Third quarter: Cle—Trey Ortega 45 interception return (Gebhardt kick), 7:09. Fourth quarter: LC—Williams 71 run (Camacho kick), 11:12. LC—Safety, Cleveland punter tackled in end zone.
First downs 23 19
Total Offense 561 254
Rushes-yards 47-415 44-108
Passing 146 150
Comp-Att-Int 6-18-2 15-32-0
Punts 2-23.5 6-43.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 3-1
Penalties-Yards 8-96 11-127
RUSHING—La Cueva, Williams 37-357, O’Toole 6-39, Robertson 3-11, Noah Woisin 1-8. Cleveland, Madison 17-80, Randy Nieto 11-74, Jeff Davison 15-(minus 15). (NOTE: Team total includes minus-35 yards on poor punt snap.)
PASSING—Cleveland, Summer, 6-17-2—146, Robertson 0-1-0. Cleveland, Jeff Davison, 15-32-0—150.
RECEIVING LEADERS—La Cueva, O’Toole 3-78, Robertson 1-22. Cleveland, Braedin Ross 5-67, Tre Watson 5-54, Madison 2-20, Nieto 2-8.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—La Cueva, Camacho 27 (blocked), 42.