RIO RANCHO, N.M. — November began with a Storm victory on the first at Rio Rancho Stadium, and ended with a Storm victory there on the 30th as Cleveland’s 48-40 victory on a cold Saturday afternoon gave the Storm their third state title — each in an odd year (2011, ’15 and now ’19).
A crowd estimated at 5,000 braved the 38-degree weather, which seemed much colder with the 23-mph wind.
It was the sixth win in a row for the Storm (11-2) at RRHS, where they haven’t lost since the teams’ inaugural meeting on Oct. 30, 2009, a punishing 50-19 Rams win. Cleveland won its games there in all the odd years — 2011, ’13, ’15, ’17 and again this fall.
This meeting was all offense, with senior Dorian Lewis scoring four rushing touchdowns and one on a TD catch from quarterback Jeff Davison. He finished with 231 rushing yards (unofficially) on 35 carries.
The Rams (9-5) had a pair of 100-yard rushers, too: QB Isaiah Chavez had 190 yards on 24 carries and tailback Zach Vigil added 190 yards on 30 carries; the two combined for five TDs.
But, Rams coach David Howes noted, “It was an offensive battle the whole game, defenses were scratchin’ to stay alive … End of the day, they made one more play than we did.”
He was referring to his team’s final offensive play of the season: Fourth and goal on the Cleveland 1, with just more than a minute to go.
Chavez handed off to Vigil, who was leveled for a 4-yard loss by the Storm’s Tres Villalpando and David Murphy.
“We had the position to go in and try to tie it — there’s no guarantee there,” Howes said. “Obviously, every point was gonna matter, every possession was gonna matter, and certainly a defensive stop was going to settle this thing.”
At the 1 p.m. kickoff, with a 23 mph wind out of the west, it seemed unlikely anybody was going to win this one with a field goal. As it turned out, the brisk wind made a few points-after miss their marks.
The Rams struck first, as Jaylan Smith snagged a Jeff Davison pass on the game’s second play and took it to the Storm 18.
Two plays later, Chavez went in untouched from 14 yards out. Zach Benedict added the point-after for a 7-0 Rams lead.
It didn’t last long: A six-play, 68-yard drive — all Lewis rushes — followed by a Trey Ortega PAT tied the game at 7.
It didn’t stay tied for long.
The Rams’ next possession ended in a fumble at midfield and three plays later, Davison found Tre Watson cutting across the middle and that turned into a 14-yard TD pass.
A bad snap from center on the Rams’ next play, following the kickoff, and the Storm were in business at the Rio Rancho 20. Six plays later, Lewis was diving over the pile at the line of scrimmage and the Storm had a 21-7, and the first quarter ended 30.5 seconds later.
The Rams then scored back-to-back TDs in the second quarter, on a 17-yard run by Chavez and a 2-yard run by Elijah Smith, cutting the deficit to 21-20 — one of Benedict’s PATs missed, of the score could have been tied.
Following the Smith’s TD, the Storm moved the ball upfield and, with Davison scrambling to avoid two would-be tacklers, found Lewis in the right flat, tossed the ball to him and the senior sped along the Storm sideline to paydirt, also avoiding a couple of would-be tacklers. Ortega’s PAT hit the goalpost, and after a squibbed kickoff on the half’s final play, the teams headed into their locker rooms, with the Storm holding a 27-20 lead.
A Chavez 6-yard run on the Rams’ first possession of the second half led to a tie at 27.
A 1-yard run by Lewis put the Storm up by a TD.
A 6-yard run by Vigil knotted it at 34.
A 48-yard TD pass from Davison to Luke Wysong put the Storm up by seven, and the Rams just missed tying it again when Chavez went in from the 7 but Benedict’s PAT missed, for 41-40.
Lewis then scored on a 4-yard run for the season’s final TD, capping a quick, 5-play, 62-yard drive.
That set the stage for the Rams’ final possession of the season, with Chavez breaking loose on a third-down play for a 37-yard run to the Storm’s 15. Six plays later, including an end-over-end tumble by Chavez to the 1, Vigil was thwarted by the Storm’s D and the game was all but over as the Storm could just run out the clock.
“This team’s fought through adversity all year long and we kept the faith, we believed — and we trust-ed in one another, and if you trust the process and you believe in one another, great things can happen — and this team did just that,” CHS coach Heath Ridenour said.
The Storm had made it to the 6A championship game last season, but without Lewis, injured in the team’s ninth game. He’d been on the sideline that cold December day, watching La Cueva beat his teammates.
“It was a great feeling, just coming out and finally playing in a playoff game with my bros,” Lewis said. “I love each and every single one of them. It just gave me a boulder on my shoulder, not playing the last couple games last season — I knew I had to come out and provide to my teammates.”
And he did.
“They’re a great team: They’ve got a great quarterback, a great running back,” he said. “We new we had to slow them down and do our thing on offense, and that’s what we did.”
Ortega, Davison, Watson and Lewis will probably get little rest from their athletic endeavors: The Storm boys’ basketball season begins Tuesday at 7 at Albuquerque High.
“You’re gonna see me on the court Tuesday,” he replied, smiling. “I have to take a couple (Sunday and Monday) days off.”