LAS CRUCES — Gabriel Buie was a spectator the first time.
He had the best seat in the house for the rematch.
La Cueva’s senior did some of the best running of his career Saturday afternoon, and his 1-yard touchdown run with 1:35 remaining — the last of his 208 yards — catapulted the second-seeded Bears past No. 3 Centennial 42-35 in a riveting Class 6A football semifinal showdown at the Field of Dreams.
La Cueva (11-1) will play No. 1 Cleveland (10-2) at 1 p.m. next Saturday at Wilson Stadium for the 6A title.
“It’s what everyone who plays high school football plays for, and so few experience,” said Buie, who was dressed out on Aug. 26 when Centennial played La Cueva in Albuquerque. But he never got into the game, a 28-21 Bears victory. In fact, Buie has been dinged up, off and on, since the preseason.
But he was tremendous Saturday as La Cueva returns to the state final for the first time since 2018 when it thrashed Cleveland.
“He’s a difference-maker,” Bears coach Brandon Back said. “And we knew that all week.”
The game was knotted at 35 as the fourth quarter began. The La Cueva defense, shoved around at will by Centennial’s offensive line in the middle portion of the game, summoned a stop and forced a punt with 6½ minutes remaining. La Cueva started at its 14.
The Bears methodically worked their way up and down the field, which is practically a violation of their score-fast/faster/fastest philosophy. But their offensive front and Buie were stellar on the season’s most important drive.
La Cueva ran it eight straight times to finish the 13-play march; Buie — who rushed for four touchdowns — carried it nine times for 66 yards on this drive alone.
When the Bears reached the 1, Centennial had no choice but to allow Buie to score, though him getting into the end zone seemed a formality by then, anyway.
Centennial got it back at its 36 and advanced as far as the La Cueva 31 in the final 30 seconds. But the Bears sacked Hawks quarterback Daniel Hernandez and forced a fumble on the next play, leading to a 36-yard loss. La Cueva recovered, the game was over.
“We were struggling,” sophomore Mason Posa said of the La Cueva defense, which labored to slow down Hernandez and Centennial tailback Mikah Gutierrez. “We just had to put our foot down and say enough’s enough.”
Buie set the tone early, scoring on a 73-yard run on the game’s second play. Centennial answered right back, with sophomore Jordan Lucas capping a 10-play scoring drive with a 6-yard run.
La Cueva quarterback Aidan Armenta scored on a QB draw late in the quarter, and he threw a 59-yard strike down the field to Ian Sanchez in the first minute of the second quarter for a 21-7 edge.
It was 28-14 La Cueva nearing halftime after a Buie 7-yard TD run, but Centennial scored two touchdowns in the final 63 seconds of the second quarter — the second after Armenta was picked off — to reverse its fortune and tie the game at 28 at the half.
Centennial (9-2) at one point scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives. This allowed the Hawks to lead 35-28 early in the third quarter with Gutierrez’s 6-yard run ending an 11-play (all rushes), 80-yard drive.
But then the Bears were bailed out by their offense, which authored a 14-play, 61-yard scoring drive to square the game at 35-all. Buie scored from the 1 to end that drive with 3:04 left in the third quarter, and it also gave the defense a chance to catch its breath.
“I love this team,” Buie said. “We’ve come such a far way together. And we just want to prove that we’re the best team in the state.”
LA CUEVA 42, CENTENNIAL 35
La Cueva 14 14 7 7 — 42
Centennial 7 21 7 0 — 35
Scoring: LC, Gabriel Buie 73 run (Mason Crowell kick); C, Jordan Lucas 6 run (Johnny Umphress kick); LC, Aidan Armenta 10 run (Crowell kick); LC, Ian Sanchez 59 pass from Armenta (Crowell kick); C, Lucas 24 pass from Daniel Hernandez (Umphress kick); LC, Buie 5 run (Crowell kick); C, Hernandez 1 run (Umphress kick); C, Isaiah Abeyta 34 pass from Hernandez (Umphress kick); C, Mikah Gutierrez 6 run (Umphress kick); LC, Buie 1 run (Crowell kick); LC, Buie 1 run (Crowell kick). Records: LC 11-1; C 9-2.
First downs: LC 18; C 22. Rushes-yards: LC 31-235; C 55-235. Passing: LC 16-25-1—196; C 13-22-0—162. Total offense: LC 431; C 397. Punts-avg.: LC 2-45.0; C 3-32.0. Fumbles-lost: LC 0-0; C 0-0. Penalties-yards: LC 2-15; C 3-15.