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Class 5A's Contenders Becoming Evident

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Virtually every Class 5A football team is through the first half of the schedules, so now would be a good time to assess the state's hierarcy headed into the second half.

CONTENDERS: Although Eldorado (5-0) has some secondary and kicking-game issues, the Eagles are the most complete team I've seen.

With the way he's managed the Eagles, quarterback Marcus Jaramillo is, to me, the first-half MVP in 5A. The loss of receiver Tyler McCulloch will be felt, however, offensively and defensively.

I give Eldorado a slight edge over La Cueva, simply because the Bears' first-half schedule, with the exception of a road game at Clovis, hasn't been that demanding. Eldorado already has beaten Mayfield, Clovis and Cibola.

Can the Bears (5-0) continue to be a one-dimensional offense and dominate? We'll know more after next Saturday's visit to Mayfield.

The Trojans (3-2) are one OT loss and a missed field goal against Eldorado from being perfect as well. After La Cueva's Ronnie Daniels, Mayfield's Brandon Betancourt has arguably been 5A's best tailback (Eldorado's Chris Sedillo belongs in this conversation, too).

Las Cruces (5-0) is chugging along under the radar for the most part, and the Bulldawgs have one of 5A's best players in QB Jeremy Buurma.

With impressive wins over Clovis and Hobbs the last two weeks, we must include Cleveland (5-0) in this top tier as well. The Storm have few weaknesses, although they, like Eldorado, have struggled in the kicking game.

CHALLENGERS: Cibola, Clovis and Manzano fall into this second group. And in 5A, is there a more enigmatic team than Cibola?

The Cougars (2-3) certainly are not fancy, but are very physical. They possess a productive running game and a veteran defense. But Cibola just cannot seem to get started. The last three weeks, Cibola has fallen behind 20-0, 14-0 and 15-0 – and still almost won every game. But that's living dangerously.

Clovis (2-3) lost three straight to La Cueva, Eldorado and Cleveland, so let's not rush to judgment. The Wildcats have great speed in the backfield, and traditionally are a strong second-half program.

The Monarchs (4-1) are a failed 2-point conversion from being 5-0, but that's a little misleading. Manzano has yet to have a breakout performance. Next week's game at Cleveland will be Manzano's best chance to make a statement.

BUBBLE TEAMS: Residing here are Hobbs, Highland, Carlsbad, Sandia and West Mesa.

The Eagles (3-2) were pushed around the last two weeks by Las Cruces and Cleveland and don't have a quality win over a 5A program, which could hurt them later.

The Hornets (3-2) have been a pleasant surprise. They've got two quality losses to Cibola and La Cueva, and a huge win over Sandia. Dylan Chavez is one of 5A's best throwing QBs, and this team has weapons.

The Cavemen (3-2) are a little like Hobbs – pretty fair offensively, but without a win that catches your attention. Could be, the Hobbs-Carlsbad district game pushes one into the playoffs and forces the other one out – especially if others (like Valley, Rio Rancho or Volcano Vista) surge in the season's second half.

The Matadors (2-2) are one of those teams everybody should be watching closely. Sandia has games in the next few weeks with Cibola, Rio Rancho and Volcano Vista. Those latter two could be swing games for all concerned.

As for West Mesa (3-2), the Mustangs posted a terrific win two weeks ago against Cibola and QB Matt Jaramillo is awfully fun to watch. But the run defense has been porous. This team needs to keep making progress to merit serious playoff consideration, because its district (5-5A) is fairly soft.

If I were choosing the 12-team playoff field today, here are my dozen: Eldorado, La Cueva, Las Cruces, Mayfield, Cleveland, Cibola, Clovis, Manzano, Hobbs, Highland, Carlsbad and Sandia.

West Mesa would be my first team out.

WALTON UPDATE: Raton quarterback Dustin Walton has offers from New Mexico, Colorado State and New Mexico State, but the 6-4, 226-pounder hasn't made his decision yet.

Arizona State, an early suitor that fell off the radar for a bit now seems interested again, Tigers coach Brock Walton, the QB's uncle, said this week.

"I don't think he wants to wait (to commit)," Brock Walton said. "He's waiting right now to make sure wherever he decides is the right place for him."

FIRST DOWNS, ETC.: Here's another installment of First Downs, Touchdowns and Penalties:

First down: To La Cueva coach Fred Romero, for doing the right thing. The Bears had a 49-0 lead late in the first half last week against Rio Grande, and had the ball inside the Ravens' 30-yard line with about a minute to go. Rather than try and score – which would have meant the game ended at halftime because of the new 50-point rule – Romero had the Bears take a knee. Thus, we had a halftime ceremony and at least some of the third quarter.

Touchdown: To the football programs at Los Lunas and Valencia. While second-ranked Belen cruises along at 5-0, it would be easy to overlook how well the county's other varsity teams are faring. The Tigers are 4-1, and the Jaguars are 5-0.

Penalty: A 15-yarder, on whoever it was at Albuquerque Public Schools that crafted Rio Grande's schedule. Look, I can appreciate that scheduling can be tricky, but how did the Ravens end up playing both La Cueva and Las Cruces this season? Watching the Bears steamroll Rio Grande last week was really uncomfortable. It was a gigantic waste of everyone's time.

James Yodice can be reached at 823-3950 or