1. Las Cruces (4-3, 2-0 in 3-6A) vs. Centennial (6-1, 2-0), 7 p.m. Thursday, Field of Dreams: This is arguably the best 6A matchup in Week 9, and the winner is going to be poised to clinch the regular-season 3-6A district championship. The winner of this game could be headed for a first-round bye in the playoffs — along with Cleveland, Rio Rancho and La Cueva. This is more true for Centennial than it is for Las Cruces, however.
2. Cleveland (7-0, 2-0 in 1-6A) at Volcano Vista (5-2, 2-0), 7 p.m. Thursday, Nusenda Community Stadium: How strong is the Thursday night schedule this week? This is one of four games on my top 5 this week that are being played on Thursday. The seventh-ranked (per the coaches poll) Hawks have won four in a row and have beaten up on teams it should beat. But No. 1 Cleveland is scoring 50-plus points a week.
3. Artesia (5-2) at Roswell (2-5), 7 p.m. Friday, Wool Bowl: The start of three crazy competitive weeks with the Bulldogs, Coyotes and Goddard all in the mix to finish atop 4-5A. Artesia has scored 119 points in its last two games, but this Roswell defense is one of the best the Bulldogs will see this season.
4. Valencia (5-3, 1-1 in 5/6-4A) at St. Pius (5-2, 1-0), 7 p.m. Thursday, Milne Stadium: Suddenly a big game for the fifth-ranked Jaguars after losing at home last week to Albuquerque Academy. No. 6-ranked St. Pius last week finally had a game that didn’t go down to the finish, and the Sartans must keep winning to keep pace with the Chargers (7-1, 2-0), who play Grants on Friday.
5. Lovington (4-3) at Silver (5-2), 5 p.m. Friday: Geographically, there is no more bizarre grouping of teams than the four that occupy District 3/4-4A. Why do I mention that? Because this is a district opener, despite the approximately 360 miles that separate Lovington from Silver City. The Colts have dropped two straight. To end that short losing skid, they’ll have to beat 4A’s top-ranked team.