New Mexico went 66 weeks between high school football seasons, from the final championship game of 2019 to the March 5 start of this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 2021 spring campaign.
It’ll only be about 20 weeks — fingers crossed — from the end of this one until the first kickoffs in late August.
There were justifiable doubts that there would even be prep football this spring. The line had been moved so often, it was frustrating and infuriating.
But the state managed to cram five weeks of football into 30 days, culminating on Saturday.
We finished with 13 undefeated teams, including Cleveland, West Mesa and Cibola in Class 6A, but with no state champions crowned.
At least, not crowned in the sense that anyone lifted a trophy. I imagine several teams adopted the same attitude as Cleveland, which following a 56-7 win Saturday against Las Cruces proclaimed itself the 6A state champ in lieu of formal hardware.
“They’re gonna say no state champion, this and that, but at the end of the day, everyone knows that this is the best team in 6A football,” Cleveland coach Heath Ridenour said from the University Stadium turf after Saturday’s win.
He’s right. Nobody was equipped to deal with the Storm. And no team in 6A paid a steeper price, competitively speaking, for a pandemic-shortened season than did Cleveland, which clearly had no equal. The Storm believes itself to be back-to-back state champs.
“We feel like we left no doubt,” senior safety Trey Ortega said. “We showed the state who was the best.”
Ridenour said Cleveland was “one of the best New Mexico has ever had to offer. It ranks up there with the best Cleveland has had to offer, that’s for sure. I have a special place in my heart for this group.”
The Storm (who went 4-0) already has three blue trophies in football; two of those years, 2011 and 2015, were undefeated seasons. With a full 2020 season, this very likely would have been the fourth. But we’ll never know how Cleveland might have ranked on an all-time list, as four games simply are not a large enough sample size to reasonably compare.
In 6A, the most spirited debate might be determining the next best team after Cleveland. Centennial? Maybe. Cibola coach Rod Williams put his Cougars up for nomination.
“I truly believe we were the No. 2 team in the state,” Williams said. And you know what? There’s an argument to be made. As an aside, we hope that sophomore quarterback Aden Chavez’s collarbone surgery goes well this week, and he’s ready to hit the ground running for his junior year with the Cougars in the fall.
Cibola was on the short list of teams impacted by a positive COVID-19 test. The Cougars lost a game, as did Sandia, Cibola’s Week 1 opponent. There were a handful of other schools whose seasons were disrupted similarly, as we expected there would be.
Many teams played all five weeks. Some four, some three, and some just two. The unique construct this spring made for some odd farewell scenes in the final week. Tears at the end of a season, yes. Tears that the season was so short, yes. Tears shed because of the many emotional twists and turns these athletes have had to endure these last few months, yes.
I’m no different than all of you; I’m left wanting more football.
Locally, what is the fingerprint these five weeks created?
Bernalillo went 4-0, tremendous work by the Spartans, including a strong road win in Grants a couple of nights ago. West Mesa was 3-0, and I really liked the vibe I was getting from the Mustangs watching them beat Sandia on Friday night. Would have been interesting to see the Mustangs for a full season.
Atrisco Heritage has a new coach, Howard Knezevich, who clearly has the Jaguars pointed in the right direction. New coach Bruce Langston at Del Norte saw his Knights go 3-0. New Rio Rancho coach Gerry Pannoni went 3-1. At Hope, another first-year head coach, Fernando Salinas, led the Huskies to a 4-1 record.
Volcano Vista QB Johnny Herrera and Cleveland QB Jeff Davison were putting up video-game numbers. Los Lunas had a ceremony to say goodbye to their seniors, only to see a season begin a few weeks later, so they could go out the way they’re supposed to go out, on the field and in pads. Eldorado coach Charlie Dotson, one of the good guys in his profession, won his 100th game, and did it against La Cueva. The Bears lost all three of their games this spring, but you know they’ll be back soon enough.
Lack of numbers were an issue at several schools, like Rio Grande, Valencia, Highland and Valley. Everyone hopes there will be a resurgence of athletes in the fall, kids who left only temporarily and who will return as we inch back toward normalcy.
The kids who stuck it out? Coaches all over New Mexico this weekend expressed deep gratitude to them for staying the course. For enduring, for persevering, and for making the best of the crappy hand they were dealt. And you know, this column really serves as a tribute to the thousands of kids (and not just football kids) who have been forced to grow up faster than they should in the shadow of this ugly pandemic.
“The kids have put up with a ton of stuff,” retiring Bloomfield coach Bob Allcorn said last week. A plain statement, and yet one every coach will read, and nod their head in agreement. Bob is another of the good guys in the coaching fraternity.
When all is said and done, we had a football season. For better or worse, we had football.
The next season, thankfully, is right around the corner.