For the first time since 2013, the big-school state football quarterfinals are a pure North vs. South alignment.
No. 1 seed Volcano Vista, No. 3 Cleveland and No. 4 Rio Rancho are hosting Las Cruces schools as all four Class 6A games are scheduled Friday night.
No. 5 Las Cruces High visits the fourth-seeded Rams, nearly two months after Rio Rancho posted a 26-21 win over the Bulldawgs at the Field of Dreams.
“We know Las Cruces and they know us,” Rams coach David Howes said. “It’s developed into quite the annual rivalry. It can go either way.”
Rio Rancho (6-4) dropped its last two games, to Volcano Vista and Cleveland.
“At the end of the day,” Howes said, “when you are coming off two losses, whether they are quality or not, they are losses.”
Las Cruces (9-2) turned the ball over five times in the September game.
No. 7 La Cueva (8-3) suffered a 35-30 last-second loss in Albuquerque 14 days ago to Clovis; the Bears visit the second-ranked Wildcats (7-3) on Friday.
“We’re gonna need some breaks to go our way,” said La Cueva coach Brandon Back, who missed the first Clovis game while serving a one-game suspension for being ejected the week prior. “You need those things in championship-type games.”
Clovis’ playmaking junior quarterback Chance Harris, receivers Jaden Philips and especially Malik Phillips (no relation), and tailback Jeston Webskowski wreaked havoc on the La Cueva secondary two weeks ago.
“Too many times we let receivers run across the field, from one side to the other,” Back said. “We have to do a better job covering people.”
The top-seeded Hawks (10-0) and No. 8 Mayfield could make for a hard-hitting quarterfinal at Nusenda Community Stadium, with two of the state’s top defenses on display.
“They’re the best team in the state, by far,” Trojans coach Mike Bradley said. His group scored in the final minute last week to beat Carlsbad in the first round.
“We’re coming for Volcano,” Mayfield running back Matthew Riley said. He scored all three TDs last week.
No. 3 Cleveland (8-2) is welcoming No. 6 Centennial (9-1).
“We’ll have to play our best to beat them,” Hawks quarterback Aidan Trujillo said. “They’re a great team.”
Centennial RB Gabriel Acosta took it a step further.
“We need to play close to perfect,” he said.
CLASS 5A: Los Lunas’ pursuit of a first state championship begins in earnest on Saturday afternoon as the second-ranked Tigers (8-2) host Artesia (6-5) — possibly the most dangerous 10th seed in the history of this division.
Artesia scored the first 43 points in the first round against Capital last week, righting a rocky ship after dropping their final three in the regular season.
There hasn’t been much wrong with Artesia’s offense, which is averaging over 46 points a game. Los Lunas gives up only 13½ points a game, however.
No. 1 Roswell whipped Alamogordo 55-24 three weeks ago, and the Tigers, fresh off a last-second win over Santa Teresa, hope to try something new to slow down the Coyotes in the quarterfinals. Roswell has won 15 straight games going back to October of last year. This is the only Friday night quarterfinal in 5A.
Goddard and its stellar defense play host to Piedra Vista on Saturday afternoon. Deming (9-2) visits 9-1 Farmington in the 4-5 seed matchup as the Wildcats look for a rare semifinal berth. The Scorpions and dual-threat junior QB Caleb Carrillo — nearly 3,000 yards and 36 touchdowns passing, plus 11 more rushing scores — are unbeaten against New Mexico competition.
CLASS 4A: Probably the most interesting of the four quarterfinal games — all at 1 p.m. Saturday — is in Grants as the 9-1 Pirates, the 4 seed, welcome No. 5 Kirtland Central. The Broncos are the only team to have solved Grants, 42-34 in Kirtland on Sept. 27.
There are several monstrously long road trips in this division this week. No. 10 Silver, which upset defending state champ Taos on the road last weekend, will go nearly 400 miles one way to take on the powerful No. 2 seed Portales. It’s nearly 950 miles round trip for No. 6 seed Aztec, which travels to No. 3 Lovington and 4A’s top-rated passer, senior Casey Perez (25 TDs and only one interception).
Ruidoso, fresh off a convincing victory over St. Pius in the first round in the 8-9 matchup, visits No. 1 seed Bloomfield (10-0). That game features the two most prolific (by yards) passers in 4A, Bloomfield’s Vincent Marquez (2,893 yards, 37 TDs, 12 interceptions) and Ruidoso’s Gage Guardiola (2,621/22/17).
SMALLER CLASSES: No. 1 Tatum (10-1) and No. 3 Melrose (10-1) play for the third time this season in the 8-Man state final, 6 p.m. Friday in Melrose. The Buffaloes won 42-6 on Sept. 6 in Tatum; the Coyotes returned the favor, 32-14 in Melrose on Oct. 4. Melrose won four straight 8-Man titles before the Coyotes won the blue trophy last year.
n Defending state champion and No. 1 seed Eunice (vs. Fort Sumner/House) and No. 7 Hagerman (vs. No. 3 Texico) are hosting 2A semifinal games on Saturday.
n Two of the four 3A quarterfinals are repeats from the regular season. No. 3 seed Robertson shut out No. 6 West Las Vegas two weeks ago, 14-0. That same weekend, No. 4 Dexter beat No. 5 seed Tularosa 28-14. No. 1 seed Socorro is home to Raton.
n No. 2 seed Hope Christian (8-2) is at Milne Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday against No. 10 Cobre (5-5); the Huskies have won their last five games, incredibly, by a combined score of 242-0. The last team to score on Hope was Bloomfield on Sept. 20.