Yodice: Saying goodbye to a very memorable November - Albuquerque Journal

Yodice: Saying goodbye to a very memorable November

Los Lunas High junior quarterback Paul Cieremans runs for yardage on Saturday in the Class 5A state final against Artesia. The Tigers on Saturday won their first-ever football championship. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

We officially transition from fall to winter this week on the high school sports calendar, but before we do that, a bon voyage to the second prep football season of 2021. It is, in part, a tribute to Lea County, the beauty of the dual-threat quarterback and the unbridled joy of the first-time state champion.

We’ll begin with that last item first.

Of the eight schools that played Saturday in the state championship games, only one, Los Lunas, had yet to win a blue trophy in this sport.

The Tigers, however, won their inaugural title, and, fittingly, went through Artesia to get there. If you’re going to break through, doing it against the Bulldogs — the state’s most tradition-rich program — only enhances the experience, like a fine wine with a pricey dinner.

Los Lunas had been knocking — pounding, really — on that door in Class 5A for nearly three full years before that door came off its hinges Saturday in a 40-28 victory.

And with the Tigers about to leave 5A for 6A starting next year, at least for a two-year period, what a sensational exit scene this becomes. Although, it is only fair to dole out partial credit to Artesia coach Jeremy Maupin, who during his years at Los Lunas helped lay the foundation that currently exists. New coach Greg Henington, however, is the man who got the Tigers over the top, elevating him to almost instant coaching icon status in Valencia County. (Although perhaps not so much in Belen, where he used to coach.)

The 5A landscape is going to certainly look different going forward with Los Lunas on its way up the escalator, as it were. And the Tigers are not the only prominent 5A program that will be moving up the food chain and joining the 6A ranks for 2022 and 2023. The New Mexico Activities Association’s board of directors meeting on Thursday morning will make all of this official.

So there is something rather poetic about Los Lunas closing the deal this season before this classification move.

The Tigers, like almost every state champion this fall, received fantastic play at the quarterback position on their road to a title.

Look at the 5A, 3A, 2A and 6A state champions. All of them were quarterbacked by lethal athletes who destroyed defenses both in the run game and the pass game. That list includes Paul Cieremans at Los Lunas, Matthew Gonzales at 3A champ Robertson, Conagher Pierce at 2A champ Eunice, and Evan Wysong at 6A winner Cleveland.

Each of those four players had double-digit touchdowns both running and throwing this fall. And the 4A state champ, Lovington, got five combined rush/pass touchdowns from QB Ashton Aranda on Saturday in the Wildcats’ championship game victory over Ruidoso.

As a side note, Cieremans joining 6A with the likes of Wysong, Cibola’s Aden Chavez and La Cueva’s Aidan Armenta, among others, makes for a stellar crop of QBs in the metro area next fall. All were juniors this season. (Apologies in advance, because only two of them will make the cut on the Journal’s upcoming All-Metro team, and Cieremans, I can assure you, is going to be one of the two.)

Cleveland remains the gold standard in the largest classification, as the Storm on Saturday won its fourth championship since 2011. Cleveland has gone 4-1 in the finals. The Storm almost certainly would have been celebrating a third straight 6A crown had the 2020 fall season been played in full.

This last 10 years of prep football (2011-21) is comparable to the 2000s if we are putting Cleveland and Rio Rancho in a split-screen shot with Mayfield and Las Cruces, and their dominance relative to the rest of their division.

The Rams and Storm have combined for seven title game appearances and six championships in the last 10 playoffs; the Trojans and Bulldawgs combined for 10 and six — seven if we include Mayfield from 2010, but I’m not — from 2000-2009.

Cleveland coach Heath Ridenour was especially gratified on Saturday, not only basking in his team’s outstanding 13-0 season, which ended with a three-touchdown victory over rival Rio Rancho (the Storm’s third win over the Rams this calendar year), but also because his alma mater, Lovington, on Saturday celebrated its 19th state title — second only to Artesia’s 30.

“I love my Wildcats,” Ridenour said. “I love coach (Anthony) Gonzales and what he’s doing down there.”

Three of the seven state champions this fall reside in Lea County: Lovington, Eunice and Tatum, the 8-Man champion. Southeast New Mexico claimed a fourth in 6-Man’s Gateway Christian, located in Roswell.

And before we transition fully into basketball, a final word about the late Micky Reeves.

Reeves was the offensive coordinator at Gateway, but collapsed (and is believed to have died) at halftime of their state final against Ramah on Nov. 6.

I will repeat here what I posted on my Twitter account the day that Micky passed away: he was one of the five greatest football players I’ve seen in 35 years on this job, and one of New Mexico’s greatest-ever prep athletes. To me, he was every bit as special as the likes of Chris Williams from Rio Rancho, and Bobby Newcombe of Highland, and Ronnie Daniels of La Cueva, and Jordan Byrd of Manzano. Or anyone else you’d want to nominate.

His loss was a dagger to the city of Roswell, but the legacy of Reeves’ myriad contributions to high school athletics in New Mexico will endure. As it should.

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