ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After a Week 10 of the regular season that is most accurately described as zany, there remains so much to sort out in Class 5A prep football. I scarcely know where to begin to untangle this mess.
When in doubt, start at the top.
Headed into the final game, I would say no fewer than four schools — Rio Rancho, Las Cruces, La Cueva and Sandia — are viable options as 5A’s No. 1 seed.
Mayfield and Cleveland are gaining steam, but neither can get to No. 1. But the Trojans and Storm have shots at top-four seeds and a first-round bye.
The Sandia-La Cueva winner would likely slip past Las Cruces and Rio Rancho into the No. 1 line if the Bulldawgs and Rams both fall in Week 11.
If both Las Cruces and Rio Rancho win, the selection committee will have to decide which of the two is No. 1. The Rams have been a high-wire act at times, but they still probably deserve top billing with one more victory even though the Bulldawgs are playing their best football right now.
Three of the five districts in 5A have outright title games coming up.
In 2-5A, it’s La Cueva (8-1, 2-0) against Sandia (7-2, 2-0) on Thursday night at Wilson Stadium. In 1-5A, it’s Rio Rancho (8-1, 2-0) at Cleveland (6-3, 2-0) on Friday. And in 3-5A, it’s the annual war between Las Cruces (7-1, 3-0) and Mayfield (6-3, 3-0) at Aggie Memorial Stadium, also Friday.
Clovis (4-5, 1-0) will be the 4-5A champ. The Wildcats are home to lowly Hobbs next week. Clovis’ 34-29 victory two days ago at Carlsbad, a terrific road win for the ‘Cats, was the de facto district championship game. And, it probably gets Clovis a first-round home game.
Valley on Saturday night officially clinched the 5-5A title by whipping Rio Grande.
The top dozen?
Where does that leave us in terms of our top 12? Through Week 10, I’ve got Rio Rancho, Las Cruces, La Cueva and Sandia as the top four, same as last week. Then Mayfield at No. 5.
Manzano was my No. 6, but the Monarchs are slumping. Cleveland gets a bump to No. 6 this week, followed by surging Clovis at No. 7.
The 8-9 game could feature any number of matchups. On my top 12 today, I’ve got Manzano (6-3) at No. 8, despite a head-to-head win over Clovis. The Monarchs’ three losses — Mayfield, La Cueva, Sandia — aren’t enough to push them outside the top eight.
I have Carlsbad (5-5) at No. 9, but only because I can’t have the Cavemen at 10 where they’d face district rival Clovis in the first round.
My last three are Valley (6-3) at No. 10, Atrisco Heritage (7-2) at No. 11 and Volcano Vista (4-5) at No. 12.
Carlsbad, Volcano and Atrisco share something in common — namely, weak résumés.
To me, the Cavemen (5-5) seem like a pretty sure thing. Maybe that’s just a Southern slant invading my train of logic. But, Carlsbad doesn’t have one significant win over a New Mexico school. I would not classify beating Alamogordo, Rio Grande, Roswell or Hobbs as significant. The fifth came against 8-2 Del Rio, Texas.
Volcano Vista would be my No. 11, except that the Hawks would be paired in the first round with Cleveland, which is forbidden. The Hawks beat Moriarty, Oñate, Eldorado and Del Norte. As far as actual NMAA selection/seeding criteria, only the win against Moriarty helps Volcano Vista, and frankly not very much at that.
Carlsbad and Volcano Vista have both been extremely competitive — there is shortage of coaches who love what the Hawks have going — but as strength of schedule is not a criteria, it makes me wonder how the NMAA might handle their cases.
What about Atrisco?
Then there is Atrisco Heritage Academy, and right about now I’m going to earn some angry emails from AHA supporters. Because of all the bubble teams, the Jaguars (7-2) have the weakest argument for being included in the playoffs. On paper.
Atrisco Heritage MUST beat West Mesa next Saturday, a game for second place in 5-5A. If West Mesa (3-6) beats the Jaguars, I assure you that Atrisco will miss the postseason, even at 7-3. For Atrisco to get in, the NMAA would have to also take West Mesa. That won’t happen.
Atrisco Heritage, more than Carlsbad or Volcano Vista, has credibility issues in my mind. The combined win-loss record of the seven teams Atrisco has beaten this year? It’s 16-44. AHA has beaten only one team that currently has a winning record, and that’s Centennial (5-4). And Centennial should finish 5-5.
That would mean that none of Atrisco’s wins came against A) a team that finished with a winning record; or B) a team that finished in the top two in its district. That is problematic for the Jaguars, any way you look at it.
Yes, Atrisco beat Eldorado. But, that means nothing in terms of actual criteria. And yes, the Jags were competitive with Rio Rancho. That means even less. Personally, I like this Atrisco team. I do. I’m just pointing out that Atrisco is on shaky ground.
Consider this: If Eldorado (3-5) beats Manzano on Friday, the Eagles — despite having three or four fewer victories than Atrisco — would surely get into the playoffs while Atrisco might very well stay home. Just file that possibility away, that’s all I’m saying.
If the Monarchs get past Eldorado, then Carlsbad, Atrisco (if it beats West Mesa) and Volcano Vista (if it beats Cibola) can rest easier.
One last hypothetical — what if Eldorado and Atrisco Heritage both lose next week? Then Eldorado, at 3-6, could get in while 7-3 Atrisco gets snubbed. The only other alternative for the NMAA, in that scenario, is to take a team like West Mesa or Gadsden ahead of Eldorado. (Everyone who thinks that could happen, I’ve got some prime swampland in Kansas I’d like to sell you.)
So, my first-round matchups are as follows: Volcano Vista at Mayfield (winner to face Sandia), Atrisco Heritage at Cleveland (winner to face La Cueva), Valley at Clovis (winner to face Las Cruces), and Carlsbad at Manzano (winner to face Rio Rancho).
We had a good laugh Friday night around the office as we pondered the jaw-dropping offensive outbursts in three metro-area games.
The Eldorado-Sandia game produced 957 yards of total offense. Insanity.
What was so laughable was this: The 957 was only the third-highest number of the three games in the discussion.
Volcano Vista-Cleveland had 967 yards.
Rio Rancho and Cibola combined for 970 yards.
Although Gadsden won’t be in the Class 5A playoffs, kudos to the Panthers who finished 5-5. First-year head coach Roy Gerela, the former NFL kicker, did a fantastic job with Gadsden this year.
The Panthers are assured of their first non-losing season since 2000 when they went 6-4. This program had only 13 victories in the nine seasons prior to this one.
To go 5-5 at Gadsden is like going 9-1 anywhere else.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal