Volcano Vista made Cleveland extremely uncomfortable for one half.
Cleveland made Volcano Vista absolutely miserable in the other half.
Class 6A’s top-seeded Storm broke open a close game with a huge third quarter, and senior Josh Perry rushed for five touchdowns as Cleveland pulled away, 47-24, against the fifth-seeded Hawks in the state semifinals Friday night at frigid Nusenda Community Stadium.
Perry, a bruising back, finished (unofficially) with 291 yards on 27 carries, scoring on runs of 38, 6, 7, 53 and 23 yards.
Cleveland (10-2) will play Centennial (in Rio Rancho) or La Cueva (at Wilson Stadium) in the Class 6A final, which will be 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26. The third-seeded Hawks (9-1) and second-seeded Bears (10-1) meet at 1 p.m. Saturday in Las Cruces in the other semifinal.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Cleveland’s Robert Garza, in his first season as the Storm head coach. “Especially after the way this season started (with a loss at home to Centennial). Expectations at Cleveland are to win. I’m just excited to be back.”
Cleveland has reached the championship game in four consecutive full seasons, following 2018, 2019 and 2021. The Storm is the two-time defending 6A state champion.
And now it has a chance at a threepeat.
“When we get our momentum, I don’t think the offense or defense can be stopped,” said Storm defensive back Andres Aguirre, who had two interceptions in Cleveland’s win Friday night.
Cleveland gained 578 yards of offense, 435 of them on the ground, and 270 rushing yards after halftime.
Volcano Vista (10-3) led 17-13 at the half, but the Storm outscored the Hawks 21-0 in the decisive third quarter.
Perry scored on a 7-yard run midway through the quarter for a 20-17 lead. After Aguirre’s second interception of Volcano Vista quarterback Elliot Paskett-Bell, the Storm was set up at the Hawks’ 17.
Two plays later, Perry scored from the 6 and it became a 10-point Storm lead (27-17).
And after the Storm defense got a stop moments later, Perry finished his quarter with a 53-yard dash up the middle, running away from the Volcano Vista defense for a TD as Cleveland carried a 34-17 lead into the fourth quarter.
“First half, we were not getting the movement I would like,” said Perry, who also rushed for 250 yards and five touchdowns against Volcano Vista when the teams met in the regular season. “We made some adjustments and it worked perfectly. We weren’t getting to the second level, we weren’t really kicking out on some blocks … we went in (at halftime) and fixed those.”
The Storm extended its lead to 47-17 with Perry’s fifth score, a 23-yarder, and a 19-yard TD scamper by quarterback Evan Wysong, in the fourth quarter.
The dominance of the second half stood in stark contrast to the competitive nature of the opening two quarters.
Each team scored on its opening drive. Perry had 71 yards on that drive alone, which ended with him scoring from 38 yards out. Volcano Vista impressively went 93 yards the other way on 14 plays to take a 7-6 lead. Paskett-Bell scored on a 1-yard sneak to end the drive.
Volcano Vista converted an interception of Cleveland QB Evan Wysong into three points before the end of the quarter, with Devin Eberly barely getting the kick over the crossbar on a 36-yard attempt.
But the Storm forced a fumble on the next Volcano Vista series, and turned a short field (starting at the Hawks 22) into a touchdown. Perry had a 15-yard run to put the ball at the 1; Wysong scored on the next play, and it was a 13-10 Cleveland advantage.
Paskett-Bell led a go-ahead, 70-yard drive in the latter stages of the first half. He completed three quick passes to help Volcano Vista reach the Cleveland 21, and he threw a 4-yard TD pass to Alijah Gonzales four plays later. Volcano Vista seized a 17-13 lead with 2:36 left before halftime.
The Hawks were driving for another score when Aguirre intercepted Paskett-Bell for the first time, at the goal line. Cleveland quickly marched down the field in the final minute.
On a fourth down from the 3, and with no timeouts and just 4.1 seconds left, Cleveland ran it with Perry, who was knocked down about a foot short of the goal line. The Hawks led 17-13 at halftime.
But, crucially, Cleveland had all the momentum.
“That would have been huge,” Perry admitted, “but we knew we would still be fine.”
The Storm was fine, and then some.
“We went in at halftime and made our adjustments,” Garza said. “We told the guys that the offense is ready to go, (the defense) just has to get us the ball back.”
It did, and Perry ran downhill most of the second half.
“Josh Perry,” Aguirre said, “is an unstoppable running back.”
CLEVELAND 47, VOLCANO VISTA 24
Cleveland 6 7 21 13 — 47
Volcano Vista 10 7 0 7 — 24
Scoring: C, Josh Perry 38 run (pass failed); VV, Elliot Paskett-Bell 1 run (Devin Eberly kick); VV, Eberly 36 FG; C, Evan Wysong 1 run (Jeff Bem kick); VV, Alijah Gonzales 4 pass from Paskett-Bell (Eberly kick); C, Perry 7 run (Bem kick); C, Perry 6 run (Bem kick); C, Perry 53 run (Bem kick); C, Perry 23 run (Bem kick); C, Wysong 19 run (kick failed); VV, Isaiah Sanchez 1 run (Eberly kick). Records: C 10-2; VV 10-3.
First downs: C 21; VV 28. Rushes-yards: C 53-435; VV 33-171. Total offense: C 578; VV 438. Punts-avg.: C 3-23.3; VV 3-36.0. Fumbles-lost: C 0-0; VV 1-1. Penalties-yards: C 4-35; VV 8-64.
ALSO FRIDAY: No. 1 seed Jal (13-0) completed a perfect season, winning the Class 2A state title, 41-21 at No. 2 Texico (9-4) on Friday night. The Panthers won state for the first time since 1999.
In Socorro, Class 3A’s top seed, the Warriors (11-1), were upset 14-6 by No. 4 St. Michael’s (11-1) in the semifinals, as the Horsemen scored with 2 minutes remaining to break a 6-6 tie.
St. Mike’s will play Raton or Ruidoso next week in the 3A championship game.
There are six more playoff games on Saturday.