ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If recent history has taught us anything, it’s this: put the football teams from Manzano and Las Cruces on the same field in the playoffs, and then sit back and enjoy the fireworks.
Three years ago, the Bulldawgs won a wild 50-45 quarterfinal at the Field of Dreams. A year later at Aggie Memorial Stadium, it was 42-33 Las Cruces in the quarters.
Last year, the only regular-season loss Manzano suffered was at the hands of Las Cruces. In fact, the Bulldawgs have won at least four straight in the series.
Which has led some to wonder — even me — if Las Cruces coach Jim Miller and his program are just plain in the Monarchs’ collective heads.
“I hope they feel that way,” Manzano coach Aaron Ocampo said.
The Bulldawgs and Monarchs renew their postseason rivalry at 2 Saturday afternoon at Wilson Stadium, with a berth in next week’s championship game at stake. Both are 10-1.
“Sometimes, you just match up well with a team,” Miller said. “It’s just something these last three years. By no means have we been dominating. Those games could have gone either way.”
Ah, but they haven’t. But for the first time in the playoffs, Manzano comes in as the higher seed. And it’s worth noting that the one team that beat Las Cruces this year, Artesia, has a style, like Manzano, that balances run and pass extremely well.
This game features 5A’s two best all-purpose quarterbacks, Jeremy Buurma for Las Cruces and Ryan Trujillo for Manzano. It’s the best QB matchup we’ve seen all season. Buurma last week returned after a seven-week absence and was brilliant, completing 17-of-21 passes for 217 yards.
“It opens up our offense so much,” said Las Cruces running back Xavier Hall, who shredded Manzano for 259 yards last year. “Jeremy Buurma is one of the best quarterbacks in the state.”
However, while the Bulldawgs are the more physical team, Manzano has the edge in offensive talent. Trujillo completes about 70 percent of his passes and leads his team in rushing. Kevin Reaves, Josh Bowen, Kyle Lopez and A.J. Johnson give the Monarchs lots of options.
“It’s not a real complicated scheme,” Miller said, “but they do a good job of it.”
This one should be a beauty.
As for the other semifinal, Mayfield surely will try to rip a page from Clovis’ playbook, as the Wildcats took La Cueva to the wire last week before the Bears escaped 21-14. The Trojans welcome La Cueva at 5 Friday afternoon.
“You have to believe you can win,” Mayfield coach Michael Bradley said. “Manzano has given us a little hope and Clovis has given us a little hope.”
Bradley said he would keep the adjustments simple this week, in light of La Cueva’s 33-point win at the Field of Dreams in early October. Then he sent a little message to his team, and to the Bears, and even to Manzano:
“We play them 10 times, if we win once it would be tough,” he said. “Obviously, La Cueva is the best football team in the state of New Mexico. But we are not Manzano. We have got to keep the score down.”
4A, 3A Semis
Remarkably, three undefeated teams remain among Class 4A’s final four, along with a four-loss Artesia team.
The best game on the board this weekend (outside of Manzano-Las Cruces) is in Aztec, where the 11-0 Tigers play the 11-0 Belen Eagles on Saturday.
“We have to play perfect football,” Aztec coach Brad Hirsch said.
Belen is 33-3 the last three seasons, and 23-1 in the last two years as the Eagles have posted consecutive undefeated regular seasons. Two of those three losses came in 2008 — both to Aztec.
Tigers’ QB Brycson King last week eclipsed 10,000 passing yards for his career, just the second player in New Mexico history to reach that total after Hatch Valley’s Brett Henson (12,124 from 2002-04). “He’s been running this offense since he was in the fifth grade,” Hirsch said.
But, when Belen routed Aztec 58-19 in last year’s semifinals, the Eagles ran all over the Tigers’ defense.
The state’s fourth remaining undefeated team is Albuquerque Academy (10-0) which plays host to Raton at 1 p.m. Saturday. Lobo fans, if the thought of a massacre at the hands of TCU strikes you as unpleasant, here’s an excuse to play hooky: future UNM recruit, Tigers’ QB Dustin Walton.
“I’ve never said this about a football team before, but they haven’t played a bad quarter all year, and that’s quite a remarkable statement to make,” Academy coach Kevin Carroll said.