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Matadors Part Of Metro Resurgence

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandia’s appearance in next weekend’s Class 5A state championship football game continues a rather interesting pattern.

The Matadors are the fifth different metro-area program in the last five years to get into the finals, following Eldorado (2008), La Cueva (2009), Manzano (2010) and Cleveland (2011).

Among the other, more subtle signs that the south no longer (completely) rules the division, this, to me, is the most powerful message of all about how this half of the state has closed the gap on the likes of Las Cruces, Mayfield and Clovis.

No, we didn’t get an all-Albuquerque, or all-metro, final this year. Maybe some December, there will be one. And that might prove to be the final exhibit in the north’s case of achieving true equality.

But these last five years ably illustrate the incredible depth we have right now in the metro area. Nobody in the media that I’m aware of, including (and especially) me, was considering Sandia as a possible championship-game contender back in August.

I had Sandia rated as the fourth-best team in District 2-5A in the Journal’s preseason metro top-10 countdown. (To be fair, a lot of people did.) Why? Well, mostly because the Matadors hadn’t shown they could beat La Cueva or Eldorado or Manzano.

They changed perceptions this year. And now this has to be said — I was spectacularly wrong about Sandia.

And who knows? Maybe a program like Rio Rancho — which will be back in 2013 with a team probably every bit as good as the one the Rams fielded this year — might make it six in a row a year from now.

SIMILARITIES: Los Lunas’ plight in Class 4A is rather similar to Sandia’s in 5A. The Matadors are in the finals for the first time in 35 years, the Tigers for the first time ever. Their roots date back to their pre-middle school years, and to the youngest divisions of YAFL.

“I’m ecstatic,” Sandia coach Kevin Barker said. “This (Sandia’s football community) is like a one-high school town. These kids have grown up wanting to be Matadors.”

Sandia senior running back Aaron Smith, Barker said, even had a premonition about winning a state title.

As a fifth grader.

Now the Matadors are in a state championship game.

“Sounds beautiful,” Smith said.

PUT THEM IN THE OCTAGON: While the bigs from 5A and 4A slug it out on Friday night — 4A’s two undefeated teams, Goddard and Los Lunas, square off just down the road on Friday night — the Class 3A final has its own MMA-type allure on Saturday afternoon.

There is incredibly bad blood between St. Michael’s and Silver, who will meet in Santa Fe on Saturday in the championship game. Well, the animosity current probably runs a fair bit stronger from Santa Fe toward Silver City than the other way around, but let’s not quibble.

The Horsemen were doing a slow burn after a 28-21 regular-season win at Silver City, a game in which St. Mike’s coach Joey Fernandez took public issue with the physical play of the Colts’ Bencomo twins, Nevada and Dakota.

It’s probably fair to assume Horsemen fans have a fair bit of venom stored up for the brothers on Saturday.

If I were the Colts, I would not spend Friday night in any Santa Fe-area hotel prior to Saturday afternoon’s kickoff. If I were the Colts, I don’t think I’d want any St. Mike’s fans to get wind of where I was staying the night before the biggest game of the year and give them reason to disrupt players’ sleep patterns.

NEUTRALITY: There are those who believe University Stadium should be the site for all of the state’s state championship games, that it should be to football what the Pit is to state basketball.

Of course, if we were a football state, and we could guarantee 25,000 fans would show up to watch these games, then it would be foolish to argue about moving them there. But we aren’t.

Still, after Sandia beat Volcano Vista on Friday night, I sought out APS athletic director Kenny Barreras. I knew that if Eldorado were to upset Las Cruces on Saturday, the emails and phone calls likely would begin, calling for officials to move the 5A title game from Wilson Stadium to University Stadium in order to accommodate all the fans.

Me? I am passionately, completely opposed to the idea of using University Stadium for high school games. And so, thankfully, is Barreras. When I asked him about it, he smiled as he quickly — and almost violently — shook his head. Smart guy.
— This article appeared on page B5 of the Albuquerque Journal