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Prep football: Rio Rancho advances to meet Cleveland in 6A final

Rio Rancho’s Zach Vigil is hoisted by teammate Darrius Gregory after scoring a touchdown against Volcano Vista Saturday afternoon in their 5A semifinal matchup at Community Stadium. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Most everything of importance could be found right at the start.

It could be found in a game-opening drive by the Rio Rancho Rams. A drive that covered 92 yards. A drive that took 18 plays. A drive that ate up almost 9 minutes of clock.

It wasn’t so much a punch in the mouth to No. 1 Volcano Vista, but rather a series of effective, and grinding, body blows.

That was a repeating theme for most of Saturday afternoon at Nusenda Community Stadium. The fourth-seeded Rams were a veritable bulldozer in this Class 6A semifinal, and in beating the Hawks 48-30 punched their ticket to next week’s championship game.

There, Rio Rancho (8-4) matches up with No. 3 Cleveland (10-2). The final has been set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Rio Rancho.

“It’s gonna be crazy,” said Rams running back Zach Vigil, who rushed 28 times for 112 yards and three touchdowns in the victory. “A rivalry game in the state championship? It’s gonna be one of the best games ever.”

The Rams throttled previously unbeaten Volcano Vista (11-1) in just about every way — starting with that opening drive.

“I think that was the best drive we had all year,” quarterback Isaiah Chavez said.

The Rams chipped away with decent gains, and nearly half the quarter was gone when Rio Rancho barely passed midfield.

A 28-yard throw from Chavez to Nick Rotert eventually got the ball inside the 10, and Vigil capped it with a 5-yard scoring run. The Rams were 4-for-4 on third downs.

“They came out here and killed that clock,” Rams coach David Howes said. “We know how great (Volcano Vista) has been, but our boys went to the grind and did exactly what we asked them to do.”

Rio Rancho, which never trailed, ran and ran and ran Saturday — consuming both clock and Volcano Vista’s spirit simultaneously.

The Rams rushed it 62 times for 270 yards, including a 33-carry, 150-yard, three-TD effort from Chavez. And they enjoyed the better of the field position most of the day. Not that it mattered especially.

The Hawks, who came into the game averaging 243 rush yards a game, totaled 130 yards on 14 carries, with most of the yards coming from QB Diego Pavia.

One of the most bizarre aspects to this game was that Volcano Vista’s two excellent running backs, Isaac Chavez and Jimmy Gallegos — who had combined for almost 2,000 yards and had 21 touchdowns coming into this game — received a combined five carries for 13 yards. And this game was in doubt for three-plus quarters.

“They bested us today and deserve to be playing next week,” Hawks coach Chad Wallin said.

The first quarter proved to be one of the most unusual on record insomuch as it ended with a 7-7 tie without the Volcano Vista offense having stepped foot on the field.

After that long, opening drive, the Hawks’ Ivan Rodriguez, taking a handoff from Isaac Chavez, returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a game-tying TD.

Except, that proved to be just about the worst possible thing that could have happened to the Hawks’ defense, which had to go right back on the field.

“I was thinking the exact same thing,” Isaiah Chavez said. “Their D-Line was tired, they were gassed, and we took advantage.”

Vigil added an 8-yard TD run early in the second quarter for a 13-7 lead. Isaiah Chavez scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of the first half, as the Rams led 27-17 at the break.

The Hawks did score a much-needed touchdown to open the second half, with Pavia throwing 11 yards to Ivan Rodriguez to shave the deficit to 27-24.

But the Rams were effective as they answered with an 11-play scoring drive, culminating with Vigil’s third touchdown for a 34-24 edge. The Rams overcame a 2nd-and-31 scenario on that drive.

“The kids didn’t panic,” Howes said. “Our coaches panicked, but that’s who this team is. They’re composed.”

RIO RANCHO 48, VOLCANO VISTA 30

Rio Rancho 7 20 7 14 — 48

Volcano Vista 7 10 7 6 — 30

Scoring: RR, Zach Vigil 5 run (Zack Benedict kick); VV, Ivan Rodriguez 98 kickoff return (Christian Sanchez kick); RR, Vigil 8 run (kick failed); VV, Sanchez 27 FG; RR, Isaiah Chavez 8 run (Benedict kick); VV, Simon Gay 30 pass from Diego Pavia (Sanchez kick); RR, Chavez 1 run (Benedict kick); RR, Rodriguez 11 pass from Pavia (Sanchez kick); RR, Vigil 3 run (Benedict kick); RR, Chavez 10 run (Benedict kick); VV, Kaden Valdez 30 pass from Pavia (kick failed); RR, Tyrese Watson 27 pass from Chavez (Benedict kick). Records: RR 8-4; VV 11-1.

First downs: RR 25; VV 14. Rushes-yards: RR 62-270; VV 14-130. Passing: RR 10-15-0—180; VV 16-26-1—264. Total offense: RR 450; VV 394. Punts-avg.: RR 1-39.0; VV 0-0. Fumbles-lost: RR 0-0; VV 1-1. Penalties-yards: RR 12-147; VV 10-120.

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