Class 6A football: Cleveland-La Cueva is a Meeting of the Monsters - Albuquerque Journal

Class 6A football: Cleveland-La Cueva is a Meeting of the Monsters

Inspired by Colt Mangino, and with a nod to the popular tune, there is a most apropos marketing tag line for the Class 6A state championship game.

Monster Mash.

New Mexico’s prep football season ends on Saturday afternoon; the 6A bracket has been whittled down to the top two seeds, with No. 1 Cleveland (10-2) visiting No. 2 La Cueva (11-1) at Wilson Stadium.

“Their monsters,” said Mangino, La Cueva’s standout senior safety, “are just as good as our monsters.”

Indeed, there is an abundance of firepower and star power as the Storm and Bears meet for the second time this season.

Both the quarterbacks in this game, for example – Aidan Armenta of La Cueva and Evan Wysong of Cleveland – are planning to sign with the University of New Mexico. And they lead 6A’s top two scoring offenses: Armenta with La Cueva (47.9 ppg) and Wysong with Cleveland (47 ppg). But their styles are vastly contrasting.

“Evan is the fastest football player in the state,” La Cueva coach Brandon Back said. “You have to find a way to keep him in the pocket.”

Armenta is the gunslinger in this matchup, with 3,762 passing yards and 45 touchdowns. Wysong has under 2,000 passing yards, but he has over 1,000 yards rushing (1,042, 12 scores).

“It’s definitely important to get pressure on (Armenta),” said Cleveland junior linebacker Stratton Shufelt, the top playmaker on the Storm defense. “We have to trust in our D-Line that we can get that pressure.”

Both the star running backs Saturday, Josh Perry (1,907 yards, 30 touchdowns) of the Storm and Gabriel Buie (949/15) of the Bears, surpassed 200 yards last week in semifinal victories. And the No. 1 receivers, Nic Trujillo of Cleveland (53 catches, 1,132 yards, 20 TDs) and Ian Sanchez of La Cueva (92/1,590/22), provide an explosive, field-stretching element.

And yet, these teams have different priorities on offense. La Cueva has constructed a potent pass attack – the Bears throw it twice as much as the Storm – while Cleveland’s identity is its physical run game, led by a powerful, big-game star back in Perry but also featuring the blazing speed of Wysong.

“We’ve got to establish that line of scrimmage and get Josh going early,” said Cleveland’s first-year head coach, Robert Garza. “That’s who we are, what we do. … And all the credit to our offensive line, who have come miles and miles since the beginning of the year.”

Shufelt took it a step further. He said the Storm’s lines, on both sides of the ball, are the most improved since Week 1.

“It’s crazy how much they’ve progressed,” Shufelt said.

Mangino was vital in the second half for La Cueva at Centennial; he and sophomore linebacker Mason Posa spark the Bears defense.

And that unit, Back said, has done some course correcting, especially after the 62 points West Mesa scored on the Bears on Oct. 13.

“It’s about getting guys in the right gaps,” Back said of La Cueva’s approach at slowing down Perry. “We cannot make dumb mistakes on defense.”

Cleveland is appearing in its fourth straight 6A final, and the Storm is the two-time defending (2019, 2021) state champion. La Cueva last got this far in 2018, when it defeated the Storm for the title.

To that extent, Cleveland has got more current players with rings.

“Playing in state is awesome,” Shufelt said. “But we’re taking our time, knowing this is our last week together.”

These teams met in Week 2, with Cleveland winning 33-29 at Wilson Stadium. The Storm got a late defensive stop to preserve the victory.

“I think everyone on this team wanted to play Cleveland,” Mangino said.

And both coaches believe it is the team that gets the extra defensive stop or two that could provide one of them with separation on Saturday.

“There’s a reason we’re playing each other this Saturday,” Garza said.

NOTE: Tickets will not be available for sale at Wilson Stadium; they must be purchased in advance online (at GoFan.co). Only a couple of thousand tickets had been sold as of about 5 p.m. Friday, according to the New Mexico Activities Association.

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