However this Class 5A football season plays out over the next eight weeks, one thing seems to be a lock: this division is not going to look the same in 2022.
Specifically, it is almost certain not to include the Los Lunas Tigers.
Los Lunas fully expects to become a Class 6A-playing football program starting next year. The New Mexico Activities Association will officially unveil their new realignment and classification proposal for its board of directors at its Dec. 2 meeting in Albuquerque. So nothing is set in concrete until then.
And, as always when realignment comes around every two years, there will be schools moving up in class, and teams moving down. Los Lunas may not be the only football team in 5A that jumps.
But Los Lunas’ time as a 5A program – at least for the next two-year block, which is 2022-23 and 2023-24 – is apparently coming to a close. District athletic director Wilson Holland told the Journal that Los Lunas’ enrollment, which is soaring (Holland pegs it at about 1,600), surely will force its exit from 5A.
The NMAA’s methods for determining classification placement is to combine the 80-day student counts from the previous two school years (in this case, 2019-20 and 2020-21), with the 40-day count for 2021-22, and average the three numbers as they align schools for the next block.
Any school over 1,450 students is considered 6A in football. Holland estimated the school could be at about 1,650 students by August 2022.
“There are a number of new housing developments that have taken off in the Los Lunas High School attendance zone,” Holland said. “And it’s unreal.”
Consequently, the Tigers, who were the state runners-up in Class 5A in both 2018 and 2019, may have a short window to win this football championshp they so crave.
In 6A, Los Lunas could – and probably will – be extremely competitive with pretty much anyone. But can the Tigers topple the King Kong and Godzilla of 6A football, Cleveland and Rio Rancho?
“We’ll have to respond and do the best we can,” Los Lunas coach Greg Henington said. When he was hired at Los Lunas, he made it plainly clear that getting the Tigers to that next level, to winning state titles, was his goal. “It’ll definitely be tougher, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Los Lunas in the last realignment moved up into 5A into all the other sports, which is the largest class. Football, at current, is the only sport the school is competing at the second-highest level.
As to whether the reduction in students over the last couple of years at Valencia High, which dropped from 5A to 4A, is directly related to the increase in students at Los Lunas, Holland said he couldn’t say just yet.
POY CANDIDATE: Clovis senior quarterback Milo Acosta lit the fuse on what may have been the Play of the Year in New Mexico this fall.
The Wildcats were trailing Albuquerque High 24-19 on Friday night at Leon Williams Stadium with under 2 minutes remaining. Clovis faced a 4th-and-21 from its 9.
Acosta was flushed from the pocket, to his left, and as he was being taken down by an AHS defender, heaved a pass from the 5 to teammate Robert Nora, who caught it in stride at the 35 and raced the rest of the way for the go-ahead – and game-winning – touchdown in a 25-24 Clovis victory. The score happened with 1:40 to go.
“I’m still in shock a little bit,” Wildcats coach Cal Fullerton said Saturday. “It was pretty amazing.”
Fullerton said he has watched the play dozens of times. So has Acosta.
“I just sent up a prayer,” Acosta said in a phone interview Saturday. “When I threw it up, it was either he gets it or nobody gets it. It was perfect in space where he could turn.”
If this wasn’t the best play so far this season, it’s on the short list.
Meanwhile, Clovis won its first game of the season, which is an unusual sentence to be writing on the first weekend in October. The Wildcats have had a difficult go of things; COVID issues forced them to cancel a road game against Rio Rancho, and they were missing a slew of players in the opener against Hobbs.
“I think these (final) four games are against teams that are really similar to us,” Fullerton said. “By getting that monkey off our back, hopefully the kids got their confidence back.”
BLAZING START: There are, among the 11-Man classes, only six undefeated teams left in New Mexico: Cleveland and Rio Rancho in 6A, Farmington and Los Lunas in 5A, 3-0 Tularosa in 2A and Raton in 3A. West Las Vegas and Silver (4A) fell from the unbeaten ranks on Friday.
No. 2-ranked Raton (7-0) had one of Friday’s pivotal wins, as the Tigers beat fifth-ranked West Las Vegas 14-7 on the road in a District 2-3A opener. Running back Cayden Walton’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the difference. It was the best win of the season for the Tigers, whose most notable victories before Friday were against a couple of 2A teams.
“When you get to our district,” Raton coach Tory Giacomo said, “year in and year out, our district is usually the one with somebody in the state championship. Going down to West, they’ve had our number the last few years, so it was a huge win.”
The Tigers still have crucial district matchups in October with No. 4 Robertson on the slate next week and later No. 1 St. Michael’s, on Oct. 30, the season finale.
WHAT A NIGHT: Would be difficult to imagine any football player in New Mexico having a more glorious Friday night than Rio Rancho senior tailback Zach Vigil.
It wasn’t just that he rushed 30 times for 339 yards and four touchdowns for 6A’s second-ranked Rams, who came from behind to beat No. 5 Cibola 65-35.
It was also the magnificence of the pregame ceremony, in which he was crowned homecoming king and was driven to midfield in a convertible in his crown.
That’s livin’ large.
“That night was surreal,” Vigil said. “One of the best nights in my life.”