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Prep football: Schedule loaded with key games


(Click here to see the composite metro football schedule.)

The 2016 metro prep football schedule has an abundance of fresh paint. There are lots of new district partners, schools moving up and down in classification, and a bulked-up presence here from visitors from Las Cruces.

It begins Aug. 24 with Cibola and La Cueva. But here are some highlights of the 2016 slate, centering primarily on games here in the metro area (the full schedule can be viewed on this page):

Week 1

Not all metro schools are in the East-West challenge to open the season. Rio Rancho, Cleveland and Eldorado are among those taking the North-South route.

The defending state champion Storm opens at Oñate on a Saturday. The Eagles are home to Las Cruces with new head coach Mark Lopez. These two staged an epic state semifinal last Thanksgiving weekend at the Field of Dreams.

Aaron Ocampo and Centennial make their Class 6A debut at Milne Stadium against Albuquerque High.

The most attractive game? Hands down, Rio Rancho at Mayfield, a potential state championship game preview.

Judge Chavez makes his return to coaching with Valley as the Vikings meet Volcano Vista. Two former 5A programs, Bernalillo and Moriarty, square off as 4A programs.

Week 2

Manzano visits its former coach, Ocampo, to highlight Week 2. (Centennial will play the Monarchs in Albuquerque in 2017.)

Top metro-area games include Volcano Vista-Eldorado and La Cueva-Cleveland.

Oñate, a potential 6A sleeper, is here to face Atrisco Heritage on that Saturday at Community Stadium.

Week 3

After opening at Aztec and at Alamogordo, the O’maury Samuels-led Los Lunas Tigers have their first home game, against Del Norte. Samuels, who has committed to Michigan, is part of a strong batch of running backs this season across the state.

Las Cruces is back in the metro to face Cleveland. Artesia, the reigning 5A champion, visits Valencia. Centennial also is north once more, facing La Cueva.

Two private schools with high hopes, St. Pius and Hope Christian, meet as well. Eldorado goes to Mayfield.

Week 4

Mayfield, thought to be the strongest southern challenger from 6A, makes its first visit here, taking on Volcano Vista. Cleveland will be at the Field of Dreams to face Centennial.

Oñate (Rio Rancho), Carlsbad (Cibola) and Las Cruces (Valley) are all in the area. And there is a potentially important game in 5A, with St. Pius visiting Alamogordo.

Week 5

Samuels is in Albuquerque to face Rio Grande on Saturday. Friday offers several attractive matchups of 2015 playoff teams – Volcano Vista-Atrisco Heritage, Cibola-Sandia and Manzano-Rio Rancho. The latter features two of the state’s elite athletes, Jordan Byrd for the Monarchs and Josh Foley for the Rams.

But the state’s top game figures to be at Bulldog Bowl, where last year’s 6A state champion, Cleveland, hooks up with Artesia, last year’s 5A champ, in a first-ever meeting.

Week 6

Rio Rancho is at Wilson Stadium to take on Sandia, headlining this weekend. Piedra Vista, also a new member in 6A, makes its first visit in that division, taking on Manzano.

Samuels and the Tigers are in Artesia.

Week 7

As district play gets underway in Districts 1-6A, 2-6A and 4-6A – remember, 6A only has four leagues this year – the game to watch is Rio Rancho at Cleveland. These two also could meet the first Saturday of December.

Eldorado is in Clovis (new district partners) and Manzano takes on La Cueva.

One of last year’s Cinderella stories, Española Valley, has a district opener at Albuquerque Academy, which is back in a district (2-5A) after being independent in 2015.

Week 8

Cleveland has its first trip into Albuquerque for a Thursday night game at Community Stadium against Cibola.

Also in 1-6A, Volcano Vista is at Rio Rancho.

Other games of note include Sandia-Eldorado and Clovis at Manzano in 2-6A, Atrisco Heritage-West Mesa in 4-6A, Los Lunas at Belen in 5-5A, and Del Norte at Capital in 2-5A.

Week 9

District action here is highlighted by Sandia-La Cueva, Cibola-Volcano Vista and Eldorado-Manzano.

St. Pius travels to Los Lunas; the Sartans eliminated the Tigers from last year’s 5A playoffs. This could be for the District 5-5A championship.

Week 10

The annual rivalry between La Cueva and Eldorado is renewed at Wilson Stadium, and Clovis visits Sandia, both in 2-6A. The week opens with Valley taking on West Mesa in District 4-6A.

Week 11

The regular season ends Saturday, Nov. 5, with Española Valley at Del Norte and Santa Fe at Eldorado.

Expected key matchups on that Friday are Valencia at Los Lunas, Manzano-Sandia at Wilson, La Cueva at Clovis and Cleveland visiting Volcano Vista at Community.