LAS CRUCES — The Cleveland Storm had its foot pressed hard against the accelerator right from the start Friday night.
The top-seeded Storm scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, gained 374 yards before halftime, and beat No. 5 Las Cruces 42-24 in the Class 6A state semifinals at the Field of Dreams.
“We couldn’t start flat,” Cleveland coach Heath Ridenour said. “We had to come out and shoot the bullets out of our gun, so speak.”
Cleveland (12-0) will play host to No. 2 Rio Rancho (9-1) at 1 p,m. next Saturday in the 6A final. It is the fifth championship game for Cleveland, following 2011, 2015, 2018 and 2019. The Rams and Storm met in the most recent 6A championship game, two years ago, and it will be a rematch of a game Cleveland won 28-27 at Rio Rancho just three weeks ago.
“It’s hard to get here,” Ridenour said. “It’s really hard. We’ve been fortunate to be here several times, and our kids have come to expect to play in the game. They deserve the opportunity to play for a blue trophy and play in the state championship.”
Cleveland scored 35 of the game’s first 42 points Friday in a game that the Bulldawgs (7-5) only made moderately close on two occasions.
Lucious Dickson’s 9-yard run capped an eight-play, 70-yard drive, all on the ground, to open the game for Cleveland.
“When we get the ball first, the offense knows what it has to do. We have to drive it down, and we did, and punched it in, and it was lights out from there,” Cleveland quarterback Evan Wysong said.
The Storm’s second scoring drive was quick. On the first play after a punt, Wysong went over the top, 74 yards to Nic Trujillo to make it 14-0 just five minutes into the game.
At 14-7 — Las Cruces QB Dallas Boyd threw a 41-yard TD pass to Richard Madrid for the Dawgs’ first points — Cleveland scored the next 21 points.
Wysong scored on a 6-yard run late in the first quarter. Three minutes into the second quarter, on fourth-and-goal from the Las Cruces 21, Wysong lofted a beautiful fade to the back of the end zone to Trujillo for a 28-7 edge.
“We were in a hairy situation,” Wysong said. “He’s a dude, he went up and got it.”
Trujillo said the touchdown was simply the result of the hard work the Storm offense puts in during the season.
“We work on all kinds of scenarios every day in practice,” Trujillo said, “and that was one of them.”
Wysong went over the top again in the final minute of the half, throwing 70 yards to a wide open Ethan Duran for a 35-7 advantage.
Las Cruces scored nine points before halftime, however, to trail 35-16, including a late field goal.
And although Las Cruces did score again late in the third quarter to make it 35-24, it was actually the opening drive of the second half the Bulldawgs regretted, as they marched to the Cleveland 12 on a 6 1/2-minute drive before the Storm held on a fourth down.
Wysong supplied the clincher, scoring on a 1-yard QB sneak — he was practically tackled forward into the end zone by fullback Stratton Shufelt, brought in for a heavy package — with 8:57 remaining. Running back Lucious Dickson ran for 148 yards on 19 carries for Cleveland, which gained 291 yards on the ground and 507 yards total.
“They’re a damn good team,” Las Cruces coach Mark Lopez said. “A lot of credit goes to them.”
CLEVELAND 42, LAS CRUCES 24
Cleveland 21 | 14 | 0 | 7 — 42
Las Cruces 7 | 9 | 8 | 0 — 24
Scoring: C, Lucious Dickson 9 run (Evan Wysong kick); C, Nic Trujillo 74 pass from Wysong (Wysong kick); LC, Richard Madrid 41 pass from Dallas Boyd (Dalin Walter kick); C, Wysong 6 run (Wysong kick); C, Trujillo 21 pass from Wysong (Wysong kick); C, Ethan Duran 70 pass from Wysong (Wysong kick); LC, Zakye Hawkins 18 pass from Boyd (kick failed); LC, Walter 36 FG; LC, Eli Ogas 2 run (Boyd pass to Hawkins); C, Wysong 1 run (Wysong kick).
First downs: C 19; LC 12. Rushes-yards: C 44-291; LC 28-43. Passing: 10-15-1—216; LC 11-26-1—269. Total offense: C 507; LC 312. Punts-avg.: C 2-38.5; LC 4-32.3. Fumbles-lost: C 2-1; LC 0-0. Penalties-yards: C 7-65; LC 4-49.
Records: C 12-0; LC 7-5.