Three teams hit the road for playoff football matchups Saturday afternoon
FARMINGTON — The 2021 New Mexico Activities Association State Football Championships are underway, with first round action in Class 3A through 5A happening around the state this weekend.
In Class 4A, the Aztec Tigers are visiting Ruidoso while the Kirtland Central Broncos look for a road win over Silver.
In Class 5A, the Piedra Vista Panthers make the long road trip to Santa Teresa in an attempt to advance to the quarterfinals.
Here's a glance at each of the three playoff games involving San Juan County teams happening Saturday afternoon.
Piedra Vista at Santa Teresa, Saturday, 1 p.m.
The ninth-seeded Piedra Vista Panthers will make the 443-mile road trip to Santa Teresa in hopes of slowing down a strong Santa Teresa team loaded with weapons.
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The Desert Warriors (8-2 overall, 2-1 District 3-5A) feature a number of playmakers for whom the Panthers will need to account. Senior quarterback Julian Lobos has eight touchdown passes this season, but appears to be a stronger weapon on his feet, where he has rushed for more than 1200 yards and 10 scores.
In addition, senior running back Adrian Rodriguez (681 yards and seven rushing touchdowns) as well as senior wide receiver Adrian Ayon (13 catches, 239 yards and five touchdowns) are all likely going to be factors for the Desert Warriors.
"They're also really big up front," according to Panthers coach Jared Howell. "They have a big offensive line so we're going to have find ways to slow them down."
Piedra Vista will likely try and slow the game down offensively, much as they did during their recent three-game win streak against district opponents Miyamura, Capital and Los Alamos, in which they outscored those opponents 116-15.
Running backs Jacob Ramsted, Xavier Lefebre and Caleb Sanchez will all likely see some significant action in a game that figures to be won or lost based on the strength at the line of scrimmage.
"This is going to be one of those ugly games up front," Howell said. "We're both quick, but we both also grind things out and it'll be a matchup to fill holes and gaps for both sides."
Howell doesn't want the long distance road trip to be a factor either way.
"A lot of it comes down to just how well a team travels," Howell said. "Some teams make the road trips better than others. Some team's fan bases travel better than others."
The Piedra Vista game vs. Santa Teresa will air live on local radio on 107.9 FM.
The winner of the matchup will move on to the Class 5A quarterfinals to face top seed Farmington next weekend at Hutchison Stadium.
Kirtland Central at Silver, Saturday, 1 p.m.
The ninth seeded Kirtland Central Broncos will look to running back Zakk Thomas to find his best stride on the road Saturday at Silver City High School when they face the eight-seeded Fighting Colts.
Thomas, who leads the Broncos in virtually every statistical category on offense, has rushed for nearly 1500 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, but has been slowed down in recent district matchups against Aztec and Bloomfield heading into the postseason.
The Fighting Colts, led by running back Aaron Granado, who has scored nine touchdowns and leads the team with more than 1500 yards of total offense, have a record of 6-4 this season and finished third in District 3-4/4A behind top seed Lovington and sixth-seeded Ruidoso.
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"Our kids are fired up about the challenge," Broncos coach Jeff Schaum said earlier this week. "They bought into the system, they've learned to execute well and they're ready to step up to the next level."
The Broncos came within minutes of securing the District 1-4A title last weekend, losing to second-seeded Bloomfield 34-29 in the regular season finale at Bobcat Stadium. After falling behind 28-10 at the half, Kirtland Central responded, outscoring Bloomfield 19-6 in the second half before coming up short when failing to convert an onside kick after a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
"We came out of the game pretty good, all things considered," Schaum said. "Health wise, we're in as good a shape as you can be. We've just got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot."
The Broncos faced Silver at Bill Cawood Field at Kirtland Central High School last summer when both teams kicked off the regular season. The Fighting Colts won that game 28-21, but gave up more than 160 yards rushing and receiving to Thomas.
"Our offense and defense have both improved dramatically since that game, but so has theirs," Schaum said of the importance of the opening season game. "A lot of things have happened in nine games since then for both teams."
The winner of this game will move on to the quarterfinals in the Class 4A playoffs and a road trip next weekend to face top-seeded Lovington.
Aztec at Ruidoso, Saturday, 2 p.m.
Despite finishing third in District 1-4A behind Bloomfield and Kirtland Central, the Aztec Tigers football team has a chance to prove itself, opening the 2021 State Football Championships on the road Saturday afternoon against Ruidoso.
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"I think it says a lot about the strength of the teams up north," said Tigers coach Eric Stovall. "There's always been this back and forth about the teams being better down south. I guess we'll find out."
Ranked 10th in the latest Class 4A poll released by MaxPreps, the Tigers (3-7 overall, 2-2 district) come into the postseason off a pair of tough losses to finish the regular season. They lost at home to crosstown rival Bloomfield 20-17 at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium on Oct. 15, then lost the season finale in overtime 20-14 at Kirtland Central on Oct. 22.
The Tigers didn't play last week as a result of a bye, and instead waited for results from games around the state and the process of determining the Class 4A playoff bracket, which was announced by the NMAA last weekend.
"The kids showed a lot of toughness and determination after those last two games," Stovall said. "When they found out we made the playoffs, I think they want to get out there and finish strong and make a statement."
The Tigers will be led by quarterback Landan Frost, with more than 1300 passing yards and 18 passing touchdowns this season. Frost has a multitude of downfield targets at his disposal, including Tristen McNeal, Marcquis Henry and Baylor Seabolt, who have combined for more than 1100 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Defensively, Ruidoso will counter with junior linebacker Kaden Sago and junior defensive lineman Dalton Trapp, who have combined for 116 tackles and 10 sacks this season.
On offense, the 6th-seeded Warriors (5-5, 2-1 District 3/4-4A) are led by senior quarterback Griffin Hooker, who has passed for more than 1,000 yards and scored 20 times both through the air and on the ground. In addition, Ruidoso also boasts a 1,000-yard running back in Braxton Hall. The senior tailback has scored nine touchdowns while gaining more than 6 yards per carry this season.
Ruidoso wrapped up the regular season with a 22-12 win on the road over Silver, ensuring their second-place spot in the district standings behind top-seed Lovington.
The Aztec vs. Ruidoso game will air live on local radio at 92.5 FM.
The winner of the first round matchup moves on to the quarterfinals and a road trip to face third-seeded St. Pius.
Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.