Yodice: Prep football season was one to remember - Albuquerque Journal

Yodice: Prep football season was one to remember

Cleveland High School’s head coach Robert Garza is doused with water after time expires during the 6A football championship game against La Cueva in which the Storm defeated the Bears 75-61. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The 11-Man playoffs began with a 7-6 game. The postseason ended with the highest scoring championship contest there’s ever been in New Mexico.
As we put a bow on the playoffs, and on the 2022 prep football season as a whole, the first order or business is to salute the seven state champions: Cleveland (6A), Artesia (5A), Bloomfield (4A), Ruidoso (3A), Jal (2A), Fort Sumner/House (8-Man) and Gateway Christian (6-Man).
We finished with three undefeated teams: Jal, Fort Sumner/House and Gateway. Three runners-up from 2021 — Jal, Ruidoso and Artesia — came back to win blue trophies this year.
Cleveland is the first school in the largest classification to win state in back-to-back years since Las Cruces in 2012 and 2013. But, since it would be proper to consider the Storm’s current run a threepeat — even though there was sort of an unofficial, shortened pandemic season in the spring of 2021 — let’s go deeper.
Cleveland is the first team in the largest class to win a blue trophy in three consecutive full seasons since Mayfield (2005-07). Which means, the Storm’s next pursuit would be to earn four in a row, and no large school has done that Clovis’ run of five straight from 1981-85.
Cleveland has now won five state championships in 13 full seasons of football, and Robert Garza is the Storm’s third head coach to win a title. Cleveland set a school record with the 75 points it scored against La Cueva on Saturday, and the Bears’ and Storm’s combined 136 points (75-61 for Cleveland) shattered the 11-Man record for a state final. By a lot. Cleveland scored more points by itself Saturday than the finalists in 5A, 4A and 3A — Artesia, Piedra Vista, Bloomfield, Silver, Ruidoso and St. Michael’s — did collectively (73).
Among the many eye-popping stats from Saturday’s La Cueva-Cleveland game, several stand out. First, the Storm had three players — Evan Wysong, with 246 yards, plus running backs Harris Mbueha (108) and Josh Perry (103) reach at least 100 rush yards.
Cleveland enjoyed outrageous success on the ground, considering the stakes. The Storm rushed for 474 yards and averaged over eight yards a pop. The Storm offensive line manhandled La Cueva for 48 minutes. Only four of Cleveland’s 57 attempts went for negative yards (and, technically, one of those four was also a sack).
Second — I mentioned this in my Sunday morning game story but it’s worth repeating — Cleveland scored 33 offensive points in the second half Saturday without completing a single pass.
Third, and perhaps most shockingly, there were actually four punts in this game. Inconcievable.
While Cleveland has a few key pieces returning in 2023, La Cueva’s offseason will surely be fascinating. The Bears are losing several of their most crucial offensive playmakers. Plus they’ll need to address the defensive shortcomings exposed by prolific run teams like Cleveland. Oddly, La Cueva this year was involved in both the highest-scoring regular season game in the state’s history (151 points; West Mesa was the opponent in an 89-62 victory) and now also the highest-scoring 11-Man championship game.
Someone pointed out with comic irony on Twitter this weekend that the big-school football game had 15 more combined points (136) than the big-school boys basketball final last March (121). And the basketball game went to overtime.
Bloomfield ended a 56-year drought, summoning a stellar defensive performance as the Bobcats held off Silver 13-7 in the 4A final Saturday. Bloomfield had been pounding on this door in the last few years and finally kicked it down. And another note: When Bloomfield lost to Silver 45-6 in the regular season, the Bobcats were barely able to practice in full that week due to a team health issue. For the Colts, somehow they didn’t win state, even with their magnificent defense having given up only 68 points all year.
Jal’s undefeated season gave the Panthers their first championship since 1999. Artesia and Ruidoso both won their first championships since 2017. Artesia has its 31st football title, 12 more than Lovington’s 19, which is second on the New Mexico list.
Only two schools in the country —Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas (32) and Washington High in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (41 or 42, depending on the source; it’s fuzzy) have more football championships than does Artesia.
Individually, Raton senior Cayden Walton set two New Mexico state records this season.
The Tigers’ running back not only broke the career record for rushing yards, but he also broke the single-season record. He finished with 3,123 yards in 13 games; La Cueva’s Ronnie Daniels rushed for 3,024 yards in a dozen games a dozen years ago for the Bears.
Two quarterbacks — Aidan Armenta of La Cueva and Elliot Paskett-Bell of Volcano Vista — went over 500 passing yards in a game, top-10 all-time showings, and Armenta actually reached that number twice, including Saturday.
But as we hunker down for the winter sports, it also important to keep things in perspective.
Organ Mountain football player Abe Romero died on Sept. 17, several weeks after he was injured in a game at Deming. The official report said Abe died from blunt head trauma during a collision, and that his death was accidental.
His death shook New Mexico’s prep football community, and we remember him again here today. His passing took an enormous toll on the Organ Mountain school and community, and it was one of those very rare deaths related to an on-field incident.
Having said that, it’s been a terrific ride the last 3½ months, a 15-week rollercoaster that began on Aug. 18. And for the seven state football champions, one final good luck wish as they undertake that final, crucial team task:
Shopping for rings.

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