RIO RANCHO — Third-seeded Cleveland weathered a late comeback attempt by No. 6 Centennial, with sophomore Dominic Vasquez’s interception of a fourth-down pass sealing the deal and sending the Storm into 6A’s final four for the fifth year in a row following a 21-16 quarterfinal victory on Friday night.
Cleveland (9-2) will play at No. 2 Clovis at 7 p.m. Friday in the semifinals, Wildcats coach Cal Fullerton told the Journal late Friday night.
Both starting quarterbacks threw two touchdown passes: Centennial’s Aidan Trujillo connected with Jordan Mendoza on 14- and 10-yard scoring strikes, each capping 17-play, 81-yard drives.
Cleveland’s Jeff Davison hooked up with Tre Watson on scoring strikes of 18 and 26 yards, and Davison also ran the ball in from the 6 for his team’s other touchdown.
The game, tied at 7 at halftime, looked settled after the Storm’s two third-period TDs gave it a 21-7 lead.
But with 9:10 to go in the fourth quarter, the Trujillo to Mendoza connection trimmed the deficit to 21-14.
In the final minutes, after a Davison punt gave the Hawks (10-2) the ball on their own 4, Trujillo led another long drive. But after the Storm sacked him for the fourth time in the game, he threw a 20-yard pass to make up for it on third down, giving the Hawks the ball on the Cleveland’s 28.
Trujillo’s final pass of the season was intercepted by Vasquez at the 17.
During two kneel-downs by Davison and a short run by Dorian Lewis, Centennial used timeouts to keep 3.6 seconds on the clock for the Storm’s final fourth-down play.
Cleveland opted to have Davison take a punt snap and retreat toward the end zone, making sure nobody would catch him as the horn sounded and he ran out of the end zone for a safety.
“There are four teams vying for that (championship) in the state of New Mexico. You are one of them,” CHS coach Heath Ridenour told his players, noting the final four are from District 1-6A, and each of them sent a team from Las Cruces home with a loss Friday night. “Playoff wins feel real good.”
— Gary Herron
CLOVIS 37, LA CUEVA 17: At Leon Williams Stadium in Clovis, junior running back Jeston Webskowski had roughly 200 yards and four touchdowns as the second-seeded Wildcats (8-3) eliminated the defending 6A state champion Bears (7-4).
Connor O’Toole caught an early TD pass for No. 7 seed La Cueva, but Webskowski scored twice in the first half for a 16-7 lead. And he added another scoring run in the third quarter, and his last one early in the fourth quarter for a 30-10 lead.
Ethan Cuiver added a 102-yard interception return for a score late for Clovis.
ALSO FRIDAY: No. 1 seed Roswell (11-0) beat No. 9 Alamogordo 48-17 in the 5A quarters. … Melrose (11-1) won the 8-Man state championship, 56-44 at home over No. 1 seed Tatum (10-2). The Buffaloes have won five of the last six 8-Man titles.