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Aztec football earns trip to quarterfinals after beating Valencia in first round


AZTEC — The New Mexico Activities Association's state football playoffs began Friday night with three San Juan County teams all looking to advance to the second round.

Aztec proved best in a tightly played 12-6 victory at home over Valencia, giving the Tigers their first postseason win in three seasons.

Meantime, Kirtland Central and Newcomb were both eliminated from the postseason after both teams got roughed up on the road in their respective matchups.

Here's a recap of all the postseason action under the Friday night lights.

Aztec 12, Valencia 6

Landan Frost threw a pair of touchdowns and also recorded a key interception in the fourth quarter of a dramatic 12-6 win for the Aztec High School football team Friday night at home over Valencia.

The win advances the Tigers into the second round of the New Mexico Activities Association's Class 4A state football playoff tournament and a rematch against Silver, the top-ranked team in the state in that classification.

Frost, who threw for more than 150 yards on the night, got the Tigers on the board on the final play from scrimmage in the first half when he connected with Baylor Seabolt for a 23-yard touchdown strike. The point after attempt was unsuccessful, but the score gave Aztec a 6-0 lead at the break.

"That was just us getting everything rolling at the right time and really giving us some bang right before halftime," said Aztec head coach Henry Strauss after the game. "It was an energy boost that we needed."

Prior to that score at the end of the first half, both teams were struggling to move the ball on offense. The passing game for both Valencia and Aztec was showing limited results, likely due to the sustained winds coming across the field.

Valencia made the game's first serious scoring bid earlier in the second quarter, getting the ball into the Tigers red zone before the drive stalled and a field goal attempt was blocked in the final minute of the first half.

On the ensuing drive and with time winding down in the second quarter, Aztec's Tristen McNeal found open field on a reverse, sweeping down the sideline for a 50-yard gain with just six seconds remaining before halftime. Frost's pass to a wide-open Seabolt on a post route put the Jaguars in a tough spot having to come from behind in the second half.

The offensive struggles continued for Valencia in the second half. After getting the ball across midfield for only the second time in the game, the Jaguars managed to get to the Tigers 12-yard line before a fourth down running play came up a yard short, turning the ball back over to Aztec with a bit more than three minutes left in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Valencia finally found the end zone. Rey Garcia was wide-open on a pass reception getting the ball to the Aztec 25-yard line before running back Jericho Pino got a big gain between the tackles to put the ball inside the Tigers red zone for the third time in the contest.

Two plays later, Pino scored on an off-tackle running play to even the score with 8:10 left on the clock. Aztec's Tanner Gonzalez blocked the extra point attempt off the foot of Liam Crews, preventing Valencia from taking the lead.

The momentum surge for Valencia lasted only a moment. On the first play of Aztec's ensuing drive, McNeal took a short screen pass from Frost over the middle and outran the Jaguars defenders 80 yards for a touchdown. The 2-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, but Aztec regained the lead 12-6 with 7:50 to go in the game.

Frost's interception was the game-changer, coming on Valencia's next possession. He got in the way of a pass from Garcia intended for Pino, giving Aztec their third takeaway of the contest and allowing Aztec to chew up valuable time off the clock.

"It's just a testament to how hard these kids have worked and the time they've put in this season," Strauss said. "(Frost) is just one of the ones who's done it for us over and over again."

In the final three minutes of the game, the Jaguars did get the ball back with a chance to win or tie the game. Valencia moved the ball down the field and had two chances for the end zone from inside Aztec's 35-yard line in the final eight seconds. Both pass plays fell incomplete and the Tigers came away with the win, their first postseason win since a first-round victory over Bernalillo in 2019.

The Tigers will be on the road next weekend to face Silver, a team that beat Aztec 28-14 earlier this season. In that game, Aztec jumped out to an early 14-0 lead before the Fighting Colts rallied and eventually edged clear. Silver, the top seed in the state tournament will again play host to Aztec next weekend.

"This is something we've been looking forward to since that game," Strauss said. "This week, we've got to work really hard and we're super excited to keep going."

West Las Vegas 62, Newcomb 16

The West Las Vegas High School football team jumped out to an early 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back, rolling in their Class 3A state playoff first-round game 62-16 over Newcomb.

The Dons, who came into the tournament as a No. 7 seed, had little trouble scoring early and often on the Skyhawks, who saw their three-game win streak heading into the postseason come to an end.

Newcomb closed the gap early in the second quarter and trailed 14-8, but then gave up 42 unanswered points before they scored again midway through the fourth quarter.

The win for West Las Vegas advances them into the second round, where they will be on the road Friday night to face No. 2 seed Ruidoso.

Newcomb's season comes to an end with a record of 8-3 (3-0 District 1-3A).

Moriarty 53, Kirtland Central 2

The Moriarty High School football team rolled at home Friday night in their first-round Class 4A state playoff game, jumping out to a 33-2 halftime lead before closing out the Kirtland Central Broncos by a final score of 53-2.

Moriarty, who came into the tournament as the No. 7 seed in Class 4A, wasted little time getting on the board and taking the Broncos out of their comfort zone offensively. The Pintos, who improve their record on the season to 8-3, will now be on the road Saturday at 1 p.m. for a showdown against No. 2 seed Bloomfield at Bobcat Stadium.

Kirtland Central's season comes to a close with a record of 4-6 (1-2 District 1-4A).