LAS CRUCES – When the Las Cruces Bulldawgs and Mayfield Trojans run out on to the field at Aggie Memorial Stadium Friday night for their annual regular-season clash, the players will be carrying more than helmets, pads and footballs. They will be carrying the expectations of the 25,000 or so people in the stands and the memories of so many more who have had a part in the rivalry game, now in its 50th year.
Las Cruces and Mayfield officially met on the football field for the first time in 1967. Since then, there have been many stories shared by students, fans, players, coaches, and longtime Las Crucens who attended those games. A lot has changed, like the nickname for the Bulldawgs; a lot hasn’t, particularly the competitiveness of rivalry and predictions of who will win.
Often, those stories or memories have a similar theme.
“My mom went to Mayfield, class of ’73, and my dad went to Cruces, class of ’75,” said Las Crucen Tom Zubia Jr., whose father starred for the (then) Bulldogs for two seasons. “But since, all four of their kids went to Mayfield, he (Tom Zubia Sr.) would have to sit with us on the Mayfield side. Usually (he was) the only one cheering for Cruces in a sea of green and gold.”
Mayfield High School has long been home for residents living on the northern end of Las Cruces, while Las Cruces High has long been a focal point for residents living in the southern end of the city. For years, the mythical dividing line was Las Cruces Avenue.
Green and gold were the colors for the north side of town, red and blue for the south. That won’t change.
There is no nickname, catch phrase or rallying cry for the game. Depending on what side of town you live in, it’s either Cruces-Mayfield or Mayfield-Cruces, giving first reference to the school most preferred.
The very first showdown
Before the crosstown rivalry football game between Las Cruces and Mayfield high schools, there was a rivalry game — sort of.
Call it “The Hidden Game,” or “The Forgotten Game,” or simply “The Scrimmage.” It was real and it was intense.
“My wife is a diehard Mayfield fan, I’m a diehard Bulldog,” admitted David Fierro, 67, who was Las Cruces High’s quarterback in 1966, the year before Las Cruces and Mayfield played in the first official rivalry game. Every single game in the crosstown series has been played at one place — Aggie Memorial Stadium, because it turned out to be the only venue large enough to handle the crowd that showed up for the game.
Mayfield opened in 1965, and was named after Thomas Mayfield, a former superintendent for Las Cruces Public Schools. Jim Bradley, a graduate of Las Cruces High School, who was named the school’s “Greatest Bulldog” his senior year, was Mayfield’s first football coach. Bradley was given the unenviable task of putting together a football team in only two seasons that would be capable of competing against New Mexico’s best high school teams.
He didn’t flinch. By the time Mayfield opened in 1965, Bradley had already won state championships in baseball and gymnastics at LCHS.
Players who had started high school at Las Cruces High but transferred to Mayfield when it opened were part of the Bradley’s first nucleus. Discipline and extra effort, trademarks of teams he would coach at Mayfield, and later New Mexico State University and Roswell High, were distinguished traits.
Before the start of the 1966 season, Mayfield and Las Cruces played a preseason scrimmage at what is now Stan Petermeier Field, at Las Cruces High School. It didn’t figure into the season record that year; Fierro remembered there was a clock, but no one kept score.
“(Bradley) had been an assistant at Las Cruces High, he knew our offense,” said Fierro. “We knew there was going to be some quirks. Coach Bradley ran a lot of misdirection on offense, and an unbalanced line on both sides of the ball.”
In hindsight, Fierro said that scrimmage between the Bulldogs and Trojans set the tone for what the rivalry game has become 50 years later.
“I remember coming on to the field for the scrimmage and all of the stands on Cruces High’s practice field were full. People were standing everywhere. The crowd would cheer when we did something good, and they cheered when Mayfield did something big.”
It was a “controlled” scrimmage, meaning there were no kickoffs, or extra-point attempts after touchdowns. The ball was placed at their own 15-yard line and each team’s offense would have so many plays to try to score a touchdown.
Later in the scrimmage, the ball was placed at their opponents’ 20-yard line so each team could run its goal-line offense.
“My job was easy,” Fierro said. “All I had to do was just hand off to (running backs) Roy Patterson or John Gutierrez.”
Patterson was one of Las Cruces High’s more memorable running backs. A year later, when the Trojans and Bulldogs played for the first time, officially, Patterson’s play sparked Las Cruces to a 13-6 victory. He would go on to play college football at NMSU.
After college, Patterson had a long career in law enforcement. His son, Nathan, would star years later for the Trojans.
Fierro had another vivid memory of that first tussle on the football field in 1966. He remembered both teams hit hard and fierce.
“Ernie Misquez, who I’ve known for years, played defensive end,” Fierro said. “On one play he came across fast and hard and just popped me. I took a big lick.
“When I got hit, I remember thinking I’d been hit by a truck; it was that hard. I remember him helping me up and just telling me ‘sorry.'”
The early years
Las Cruces High would win the first two games in the series, 13-6 in 1967 and 13-7 in 1968. The teams battled to a 21-21 tie in 1969, but Mayfield was awarded the victory because the Trojans were able to get the football more times inside the 20-yard line than Bulldogs that night.
Bradley’s next two Mayfield teams shut out Las Cruces High, 21-0 in 1970 and 49-0 in 1971. The Trojans’ 1971 team won the New Mexico Class 4A state championship, and Bradley left Mayfield after that season to become coach at NMSU for six seasons.
Twenty years of rivalry
After Bradley’s departure, Mayfield would continue its domination of Las Cruces, winning seven times during the 1970s. However, the rivalry reached a defining moment when Las Cruces and Mayfield, the two top-ranked teams in the state, played each other in 1975.
It was epic. With a standing-room-only crowd — some of them standing four- to five deep in the end zones at the old Aggie Memorial Stadium, just north of NMSU’s Milton Hall, Las Cruces defeated Mayfield 21-13. Three weeks later, the Bulldogs won the Class 4A state title to cap a 13-0 season.
“I remember coming out onto the field, and they (police) had to form a gauntlet for us to pass through the crowd in the (north) end zone,” said Randy Boyer, a lineman for the Bulldogs that season.
From the 1980s to the present, the rivalry game has been more balanced. Since 1980, neither team has won more than four consecutive games, and the Bulldawgs and Trojans have played each other three times in playoff games.
The 1991 game between Las Cruces and Mayfield was one of the more memorable ones. An evenly matched and highly entertaining game came down to a game-winning kick, in overtime, with Mayfield getting the 14-13 win against the Dawgs.
“I was fortunate to kick the game-winning point — still get chills thinking about that night,” said Bary Flack, now a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force. “So glad we won that game.”
Mayfield’s victory that night gave the Trojans a 4-7 season record, with four of those losses by a combined 10 points.
“We were much better than our record indicated, we were very close to having an amazing year. The only thing to make it OK and palatable was to beat Cruces.”
Flack remembered Mayfield’s victory that season was against one of the Bulldawgs’ best players, quarterback Mark Lopez, who is now the coach at Las Cruces. A Las Cruces victory that night would have put the Bulldawgs into the playoffs.
“We had other things in mind; we were dead set on keeping them home, we had to beat the Dawgs,” Flack said. “One of our goals every year was to beat the Dawgs, always was one of our stated goals.”
The 1991 game ended in a 7-7 tie. Las Cruces scored first in overtime, but missed its extra-point kick.
“To be honest, I was pretty dang nervous that the game may come down to me,” Flack said. “I did not want to let our whole school and half of Las Cruces down. (Quarterback) Billy Davis did his magic and hit Martin Montes for a TD pass and then, well, it was time for ‘The Kick.’
“Cruces burned all their timeouts before I was able to kick. … They were even telling jokes to make me laugh. Although I laughed on the outside, my insides were churning because I knew what was at stake — either the sky in Cruces turned green and gold the next day or it may stay blue. Well, I had an amazing snapper and holder and they did their jobs, our line held, and thankfully the ball went through the uprights.”
The football would continue to take different bounces in later games. Las Cruces beat Mayfield for state titles in 2002 and 2013 in dramatic finishes. In 2002 a defensive stand inside Las Cruces’ 20 enabled the Dawgs to slip past Mayfield 17-14 in the championship game. In 2013, a blocked extra-point kick was the difference in a 27-26 state championship for Las Cruces.
Steve Ramirez can be reached at 575-541-5452, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @SteveRamirez6 on Twitter.
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