The NFL’s best two days can be found in the divisional round. In New Mexico high school football, the equivalent is quarterfinal weekend.
All of the state’s best teams return from their first-round byes as the postseason in Classes 6A-3A reach their final eight.
Higher seeds went 22-1 last weekend. Among the 19 playoff games this Friday and Saturday, 10 are rematches from the regular season.
CLASS 6A (see bracket): Las Cruces coach Mark Lopez told his team on Oct. 15 that his Bulldawgs could face Centennial again.
And here they are. The fourth-seeded Hawks authored perhaps the greatest comeback of the year on Oct. 14, rallying from 41-14 down in the third quarter to win 42-41.
“It’s not often you get a second opportunity like this in one season,” Lopez said.
Centennial and Las Cruces meet Friday night at the Field of Dreams. The Bulldawgs only ran 13 plays in the second half of the first game as the Hawks rallied. Centennial has had three weeks to prepare for Friday after last playing on Oct. 22.
At Wilson Stadium on Friday night, No. 3 La Cueva, which steamrolled its way through District 2, takes on No. 6 Volcano Vista. The Bears scored three defensive touchdowns in the first meeting, a 38-16 victory on Sept. 10.
“Every game we’ve lost, we lost the turnover battle,” Volcano Vista coach Chad Wallin said. “(Against) Cleveland and La Cueva, we lost it pretty bad.”
The Bears, Wallin said, prevented the Hawks from stretching the field two months ago. And Volcano Vista can score quickly and in bunches, led by quarterback Josh Gerardo (2,510 yards, 24 TDs) and his two speedy primary targets, Kaden Valdez (55 catches, 1,1778 yards, 12 scores) and Kieran Cordova (59/990/8).
La Cueva QB Aidan Armenta has had a stellar season himself, throwing for 2,357 yards and 22 touchdowns versus just three picks. Notably, Armenta’s average completion goes for nearly 19 yards, and the Bears – an offense dominated by juniors at the skill positions – possess the same type of big-play potential as Volcano Vista. Exodus Ayers caught 11 TD passes in just six games for La Cueva.
“We’re very battle-tested,” Wallin said. “We really feel like we have something to prove.”
At Rio Rancho on Friday night, the second-seeded Rams face No 7 Cibola. Rio Rancho beat the Cougars 65-35 on on Oct. 1, but that game was competitive and close the entire first half.
Rams tailback Zach Vigil was an issue for Cibola that night, as he rushed for 339 yards and four touchdowns.
Hobbs, the 8 seed, plays at No. 1 Cleveland in the only 6A game Saturday. QB Colton Graham and Kaden Trevino hooked up on three touchdown passes for the Eagles in a quarterfinal win last week against Eldorado.
“Cleveland has been the flagship program in New Mexico the last few years,” Hobbs coach Ken Stevens said. “Our kids are excited for the challenge, and it’ll be exciting to see how we measure up against a program like Cleveland.”
CLASS 5A (see bracket): Two quarters are Friday night, with Santa Teresa visiting No. 1 Farmington, and the all-Roswell battle between the Coyotes and Goddard.
Roswell and the Rockets, who have been playing each other since 1965, have never before met in the playoffs. The Coyotes beat Goddard 16-14 two weeks ago to close the regular season, and the Rockets haven’t beaten their rivals since 2014.
“We definitely had our chances,” Rockets coach Chris White said of the first meeting.
But last week, Goddard welcomed starting quarterback Adrian Vega and running back James Torrez back to the lineup for a first-round victory against Valley. Both were injured in the season opener against Carlsbad. Their return has been a welcome jolt.
“We’ve overcome a lot of adversity, so I like our chances with anybody we match up with,” White said. “We just have to go make some plays.”
On Saturday afternoon at Bulldog Bowl, No. 4 Artesia plays host to No. 5 Mayfield. This is the first meeting between the traditional football powers since 1974.
It’s the Trojans and their potent running game, led by Jose Montoya and Calvin Cox, against that spread offense attack of the Bulldogs.
“Two of the best running backs in the state,” Mayfield coach Mike Bradley said of Montoya and Cox.
The veteran Bradley has never coached a game at Bulldog Bowl, and has, he said, only been there once, when he toured the facility with his late father Jim, a former Roswell High coach.
“I think we’re right there with them,” Bradley said. “I’m looking forward to a great game.”
As with Roswell-Goddard, No. 7 Belen and Los Lunas just played the week before last to end the regular season. The second-seeded Tigers won, 38-6.
“First thing is, we have to not turn the ball over,” said Eagles coach Andrew McCraw, whose team edged Deming 25-21 in the first round. “We had three turnovers, and that hurt us.”
McCraw said Belen’s preparation has had to walk the line between doing what it does, only better, and adding a couple of new wrinkles.
“Our guys are pretty excited to get this shot,” McCraw said.
CLASS 4A (see bracket): Fifth-seeded Albuquerque Academy plays at No. 4 Moriarty on Friday night, but the Chargers last week in a first-round win over Bernalillo lost its top running back, Cole Conway, to a broken collarbone late in the game.
Academy coach Shaun Gehres said they’ll look to fill Conway’s vacancy by committee.
Another challenge is the Pintos’ efficient ground attack, which is not flashy but averages 285 yards and five touchdowns a game. Moriarty has attempted just 18 passes the entire season.
“We played them in the spring, so we have a pretty good feel,” Gehres said. “It’s just a matter of stopping that run machine.”
No. 3 St. Pius plays host to No. 6 Ruidoso on Saturday afternoon, and Sartans coach Dave Montoya said he expects to get starting QB Alejandro Sapien back this week after he missed the Academy game two weeks ago. The St. Pius offense labored without him.
The Warriors beat Aztec in the first round; senior running back Bracxton Hall has run for almost 1,200 yards and 10 scores this season.
But St. Pius senior running back Marco Ybarra counters with 1,403 yards and 22 TDs.
“We’ve got to keep him contained and not let him have a little crease and not let him take it to the house,” Ruidoso coach Kief Johnson said.
No. 7 Valencia handed second-seeded Bloomfield its only loss, 34-21 on Sept. 24. Since that night, the Bobcats lost their starting QB, Ryan Sharpe, to injury, and are now quarterbacked by freshman Blake Spencer.
“We want to rectify a wrong,” Kovacs said of the loss to the Jaguars. “And what better way to come out than to give it the shot you thought you should have had the first time.”
Also, Kovacs said, he believes his team has “cleaned up a few things” on defense since then.
“We’re going to have to execute better on defense,” Kovacs said. “We kept giving them the edge on their jet sweep. Wes (Shank, Valencia’s coach) is a great coach and he knows how to take advantage of mismatches and he found one on us.”
District rivals Silver and Lovington meet in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats beat the Colts 48-16 in Silver City last month. The rematch is on the blue turf of the top-seeded Wildcats.
“We made them look a lot better than they really are,” Silver coach Jerome Ortiz said. “I think they will see a different Silver team.”
The Colts, Ortiz said, were missing a handful of COVID-quarantined players in the first meeting. And Ortiz points to his team outscoring Lovington in the second half as reason for optimism.
“We physically beat them up in the second half and i think they know that,” he said.
CLASS 3A (see bracket): Defending state champion Hope Christian is on the road Saturday against No. 1 Raton (10-0).
The Huskies’ defense faces one of their strongest challenges in Raton junior running back Cayden Walton, who has rushed for 1,556 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“The offense revolves around him and they’ve run the ball on everyone all year long,” Hope coach Fernando Salinas said. “We’re gonna load the box a little bit and force them to pass and see what they can do.”
At Robertson, rivals West Las Vegas and the Cardinals are facing one another in the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons. Robertson beat the Dons 40-27 two weeks ago.
“We just have to tackle better,” West Las Vegas coach Adrian Gonzales said. “We did a horrendous job of tackling the last game. And their quarterback (Matthew Gonzales) is a heck of an athlete.”
Indeed, Gonzales is one of the state’s top dual-threat QBs. He’s thrown for 1,100 yards and nine TDs, and rushed for another 996 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“If you’ve seen Lamar Jackson play, he’s the equivalent of that,” Adrian Gonzales said. The Dons’ QB is freshman C.J. Perea, who has tossed 23 TD passes.
In Santa Fe, No. 4 seed St. Michael’s has been stagnant on offense in its last three games, scoring a combined 20 points. Meanwhile, fifth-seeded N.M. Military Institute has scored 132 points in its last three victories.
Dexter was the only lower-seeded team to win in the playoffs in any class last week. The 10th-seeded Demons visit No. 2 Socorro in the only Friday quarterfinal.
CLASS 2A (see bracket): No. 1 Jal is home to No. 4 Texico in the semifinals on Friday. These teams staged one of the season’s highest-scoring games in the opener, when the Panthers rushed for 586 yards and eight touchdowns in a 63-56 victory.
Unbeaten Tularosa, the 2 seed, welcomes No. 3 Eunice at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Wildcats (7-0) will have to deal with Cardinals senior QB Conagher Pierce, who has thrown for 25 touchdowns (seven in a quarterfinal win last week against Hagerman), and a receiving corps that includes four players with at least 20 catches, and who have combined to catch 20 of those 25 TD passes.
8-MAN (see bracket): No. 2 Melrose (7-2) and No. 1 Tatum (8-1) meet Friday night in Tatum for the state championship. The Buffaloes and Coyotes met five weeks ago, with Tatum winning 38-26.