ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — 2nd-Seeded Cruces Ready To Face No. 4 Sandia in Final
Rio Rancho High School is not playing for the Class 5A state football championship Friday night, and Las Cruces did not have to dispatch the Rams on their road to the finals.
And yet, it is apropos to acknowledge the Rams’ heavy contribution to the Bulldawgs’ cause as this season reaches a crescendo Friday night.
“We stepped it up after Rio Rancho,” junior running back Austin Salas said. “Everyone had an off game.”
After a mid-September blowout at Rio Rancho (42-21), Las Cruces, the No. 2 playoff seed, embarked on a long, very impressive tear. That road ends Friday when the Bulldawgs (10-1) meet No. 4 Sandia (9-3) at Wilson Stadium in the Class 5A championship game.
Nearly everyone involved with Las Cruces football owns up to how the Rio Rancho loss lit the Bulldawgs’ fuse.
“We got knocked down a notch, and that was the best thing for these kids,” Las Cruces coach Jim Miller said. “Their egos and their heads were getting too big. And we didn’t play very well. They thought they could go out and ho-hum it against a good team like Rio Rancho.”
Since that night, Las Cruces has rattled off nine straight wins coming into the finals.
“Right now,” senior tight end/defensive end Kamryn Dixon said, “it’s us versus the world.”
The world has been getting its collective tail kicked from one end of the I-25 corridor that separates Las Cruces and Albuquerque to the other.
For Las Cruces, the past 10 weeks have seen exactly the type of take-no-prisoners football that metro-area coaches loudly warned the Bulldawgs were capable of throughout the offseason. Most conversations about 2012 title contenders were finessed eventually back toward Las Cruces.
“We’ve got camaraderie,” Dixon said. “We go off one heartbeat.”
Yeah, well, that too – but let’s not entirely dismiss trivial matters such as size, talent, experience and motivation.
The Bulldawgs have stomped their last three opponents – Mayfield, Clovis, Eldorado – by a combined score of 171-81. They’ve exceeded 50 points in five of their past seven games, and are averaging nearly 500 yards a game with an offense – led by dual-threat QB Jonathan Joy – that has no clearly defined weak link.
“It’s great when you’ve got a running game like we do that it makes it easy for me to throw the ball. This is fun,” Joy said.
The offensive line averages about 275 pounds, the largest of any Miller team he’s had in Las Cruces, and the Bulldawgs’ front seven on defense is big and physical.
“They seem to me to have four or five Willie Pounds,” Eldorado coach Charlie Dotson said, referring to Pounds who was one of the Eagles’ top lineman of the past decade. “They’re huge.”
Las Cruces ran for nearly 300 yards in the second half last week in its 55-28 semifinal victory over Eldorado.
“They just pound on people and wear people down,” Miller said of his offensive line.
Running behind them are a pair of juniors, J.J. Granados and Salas.
While Granados garnered boffo headlines for his eight-touchdown effort against Clovis in the quarterfinals, it was Salas who had the most significant impact last week.
“We’re finally starting to click,” Granados said. “Around this time of year is when you’re supposed to be hitting your peak.”
Dotson said this Las Cruces team was superior to the Bulldawgs’ 2008 squad, which went undefeated. Miller didn’t disagree.
“It’s more dynamic,” he said.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal