ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Just when it seemed the Class 5A championship game was shaping up as a familiar helping of southern comfort food, along came a Northern light.
Trailing by three with 1:31 to go after a Las Cruces touchdown, No. 1 Manzano drove 84 yards in 65 seconds. Ryan Trujillo’s 9-yard touchdown run with 26.4 seconds to go gave the Monarchs a scintillating 35-31 victory over the fourth-seeded Bulldawgs in the Class 5A semifinals Saturday afternoon at Wilson Stadium.
“They left us a lot of time, and we just had to do what we do in practice every single day,” said Trujillo, who keyed a comeback after Manzano trailed 24-7 at halftime. “We work on our 1-minute offense every day. We knew we could run our offense like normal, and it worked out.”
The Monarchs (11-1) face No. 6 Mayfield (9-4) at 2 p.m. next Saturday at Wilson Stadium for the 5A title. Manzano last played in the finals in 1996, losing to Mayfield.
“I feel like all the pressure is on them,” Manzano coach Aaron Ocampo said. “They’re the ones that are supposed to win state championships. We’re just the little team that has made things happen this year. We’re gonna play loose, and we’re gonna have fun next week.”
This is the third straight year the 5A final is being played at Wilson Stadium, each with a different Albuquerque entrant. It was Eldorado in 2008 and La Cueva in 2009.
However, there was almost an all-Las Cruces matchup as Saturday’s game ended controversially.
A Hail Mary pass from Jeremy Buurma to Geoff Segovia on the final play appeared to be caught in the back of the end zone for Las Cruces, but it was ruled incomplete.
Las Cruces coaches and officials said they had video evidence that Segovia made the catch; others said it wasn’t clear that Segovia had full possession. Segovia celebrated as if he had caught it, jumping into a teammate’s arms.
“It’s a shame,” Las Cruces coach Jim Miller said. “Why would a kid jump and be so ecstatic and happy if he didn’t catch it? He knew he was in.”
The New Mexico Activities Association said it was not going to review video from the game.
“We’re not in the business of overturning an official’s decision,” NMAA assistant director Robert Zayas said. “Even if there was undisputable video evidence, it would still not be overturned.”
Lost in the shuffle was a magnificent comeback by Manzano.
After a scoreless first quarter, Manzano was poised to strike first. But Trujillo made an ill-advised decision to throw into traffic near the Bulldawgs’ goal line. He was intercepted, and Las Cruces marched 98 yards for the game’s first points as Buurma threw 36 yards (on a fourth-and-12) to Josh Watson. That kick-started a 24-point quarter for the visitors. Only a 67-yard screen pass from Trujillo to A.J. Johnson for a TD interrupted the Bulldawgs’ momentum.
The Monarchs’ defense made a key stop on the opening drive of the second half, and quickly scored to cut the deficit to 24-14. Trujillo went 89 yards for a score to Josh Bowen, his favorite target.
Johnson added a 15-yard TD run on the final play of the quarter as Manzano trailed 24-21. After a punt, the Monarchs went 68 yards in seven plays to lead 28-24. Trujillo threw 43 yards for a touchdown to Bowen to cap the drive, as a Las Cruces defensive back fell down.
But Las Cruces (10-2) answered right back, as Xavier Hall scored on a 3-yard run with 1:31 left.
The Monarchs’ winning drive began at their 16. The key play was a 25-yard pass from Trujillo to Bowen. Combined with a roughing-the-passer penalty, Manzano had it at the Bulldawgs’ 9. Trujillo scored on the next play.
“It’s one of the benefits of having a no-huddle offense. When you get down like (we did), everything works to your benefit,” said Bowen.
The teams combined for 952 yards of total offense.