RIO RANCHO – A lottery system put them together for the first Friday in October rather than the first Friday in November.
But that won’t subtract much, if at all, from the appeal of this particular Rio Rancho-Cleveland high-stakes showdown, which frankly could stake a claim as the most compelling football matchup in the metro area tonight – and that includes Boise State-UNM.
“It’s what we live for,” Rio Rancho junior defensive end Keshawn Banks said. “It’s a different type of game. We’ll all be flying around a little bit harder.”
The state’s top two teams, so far, both 6-0, collide at Cleveland at 7 tonight in a District 1-6A opener.
The Rams are rated No. 1, the Storm No. 2 by the MaxPreps.com poll. If you are unable to find faith in that computer-driven bubble, then pay strict attention to Cleveland coach Heath Ridenour.
“The winner is the No. 1 seed (for the playoffs). The loser is the No. 2 seed, regardless of which way it goes,” he said.
His argument is valid. These two are riding shotgun in 6A’s front seat. Who’s driving? Check back at 10 tonight.
Cleveland has beaten the teams rated No. 3 (Artesia), No. 4 (Centennial), No. 7 (Las Cruces) and No. 9 (Oñate) in the overall MaxPreps poll.
Rio Rancho has beaten No. 5 Manzano, No. 8 Clovis, Oñate and No. 10 Mayfield.
“It’s two big, powerful programs going against each other,” Ridenour said. “But even with all the emotion, the kids understand it’s another game, and we’re proud to be in a rivalry like this.”
A random draw, formulized by the district, put these two opposite each other for the 1-6A opener. They’ll also be the league opener in 2017 at RRHS.
“(There’s) a different level of intensity and physicality in these rivalry games,” said Rio Rancho coach David Howes. “That’s why you can throw history and records out the window.”
A lottery might have put them together tonight rather than in Week 11, but there’s nothing chance about how these teams arrived at 6-0.
The Rams have been a blunt-force instrument. The Rams possess Class 6A’s best scoring offense – led by tremendous senior tailback Josh Foley – plus the state’s top scoring defense. Rio Rancho has been winning, on average, by almost five touchdowns every week.
“When people say they have a big offense, fast feet, we just get hungrier,” said Rio Rancho senior outside linebacker Cailon Bailon.
The Ram starters are getting so much rest they’ve probably only played the equivalent of about 4½ games. The Cleveland defense hopes to extend their workload.
“There’s definitely a lot more excitement, and a lot more amp to our focus,” said Cleveland defensive tackle Brendon Armstead.
The Storm, which has won 19 straight dating to the start of the 2015 season, have arrived at 6-0 a little more colorfully. Maybe even a lot more. Cleveland has had a couple of scares, namely a last-second escape against La Cueva. The Storm’s average margin of victory is 12.8 points.
Cleveland, the defending state champion, has 6A’s third-ranked scoring offense, which will try to put some dents in that ferocious Rio Rancho defense.
“It’s gonna be a good game, and I think we’ll be ready for it,” said Storm junior QB Angelo Trujillo. “We just need to play our game and be the best we can be.”
Cleveland won last year 44-14. The road team has won the last five regular-season games in this series.
“Everyone is excited to go out and see who owns the city of Rio Rancho,” Rio Rancho quarterback Nic Little said.