Artesia High School has won more state football championships than most schools have played postseason games.
Saturday’s Class 5A state final illustrates this contrast perfectly. The fourth-seeded Bulldogs (9-3) are chasing title No. 31, while second-seeded Los Lunas (12-0) is looking for its first blue trophy as the two collide at 1 p.m. Saturday in Valencia County.
We do know one of the two head coaches in this game will get their first ring. Greg Henington at Los Lunas was in Belen when the Eagles were beaten by Artesia in the 2017 final. Jeremy Maupin took Los Lunas to the 5A title game in 2018 and 2019, losing both years to Roswell. He resigned in April to return to his hometown, Artesia.
Maupin is as familiar with the Tigers’ personnel as anyone who doesn’t live in Los Lunas, and that includes mentoring Paul Cieremans, a junior and the Tigers’ dangerous dual-threat quarterback.
“I had packages for Paul as a freshman, because he was so special two years ago,” Maupin said. “He is definitely a very, very good quarterback. I think the thing that makes him so dang good is he runs with such a fierce, tough mentality.”
Quarterback Nate Taylor and especially running back Jake Barrera, who has gained over 1,600 yards, spark the diverse Artesia offense.
“Barrera doesn’t get a lot of credit, but every team that plays him knows how good that kid is,” Maupin said. “He’s had a phenomenal year for us.”
The Bulldogs are coming off what Maupin described as Artesia’s most complete game of the fall, a 57-14 semifinal drubbing of No. 1 seed Farmington.
“It’s big for Artesia,” Maupin said. “They want this every year. Our whole community is ready to go.”
Los Lunas is champing at the same bit.
“There are plenty of challenges,” Henington said, “but I think our guys are ready to respond.”
As for facing a former coach so soon after he left, Henington said the Tigers hashed that out.
“We addressed that Monday a little,” he said. “We had an exercise, we wrote down all the things, the pressures, maybe some hard feelings, some personal things, that aren’t so positive. We talked about them, addressed them and then threw them away.”
Los Lunas will be without a couple of players; senior defensive lineman Mikkel Beltran was lost to a serious leg injury during a 26-21 semifinal win over Goddard, and senior Christian Gonzalez, also a member of the Los Lunas defense, was ejected at the end of the first half, making him ineligible for Saturday.