The state high school football championship games in grades 5A, 4A and 3A have an authentic North vs. South footprint this year.
Artesia, Silver and Ruidoso all head off for long trips and Saturday championship games in Farmington, Bloomfield and Santa Fe.
A preview (The Journal will be covering the 6A title game on Saturday):
WHO: #1 seed Artesia (10-2) at #3 seed Piedra Vista (11-1)
IF: Saturday 1 p.m
WHERE: Hutchison Stadium, Farmington
PLAYERS TO SEE: Artesia – Nye Estrada, Jr., QB; Peyton Greathouse, Jr., WR; Jesse Leroch Jr., RB. Piedra Vista – Jacob Ramsted, Sr., RB; Zach Mora-Dotson, Sr., RB; Logan Howell, Sr., QB.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Panthers have already beaten the other three members of the Artesia District (Goddard, Mayfield, Roswell) but now they’re taking on the best in this league as Piedra Vista tries to win his first soccer championship.
The Panthers would certainly benefit from a low-scoring game like they had at the Wool Bowl (13-7) in Roswell last week. Artesia has scored at least 30 points in every game, and his only losses came to 6A powers Hobbs and Cleveland.
While Artesia is chasing title No. 31, it’s important to note that the Bulldogs’ top three offensive weapons — Estrada, Greathouse, and Leroch — are still only juniors. Estrada has threw for 3,100 yards and 39 touchdowns. Greathouse has 11 TD receptions and averages nearly 17 yards per grave. and Leroch has scored 10 points, all on this offense working at a breakneck pace.
Piedra Vista will try to set an early, physical tone, running the ball, moving the chains and trying to limit Artesia’s offensive touches.
The Panthers haven’t played for a football championship in 22 years.
“Without Artesia, we probably would have been in a few more,” said PV Coach Jared Howell, laughing. Another irony: Hutchison Stadium is on the campus of Panther rivals Farmington High.
The Bulldogs and coach Jeremy Maupin were the 5A runners-up to Los Lunas last year.
WHO: #1 seed Silver (11-1) at #2 seed Bloomfield (11-1)
IF: Saturday 1 p.m
WHERE: Bobcat Stadium, Bloomfield
ALREADY THIS SEASON: Silver defeated Bloomfield 45-6 in Socorro on October 7.
PLAYERS TO SEE: Silver – Aidan Granado, Sr., RB-LB; Mason Lockett Sr. RB-LB; Matt Garrison, Sr., LB. Bloomfield – Ryan Sharpe, Sr., QB; Drew Perez, Jr., WR; Jesse Seitzinger Jr., RB.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Colts can wrap up one of the great defensive seasons on Saturday; they have dropped just 55 points in 12 games; even their only loss was a 7-0 setback against 5A semi-finalists Deming. “To be honest,” said Colts coach Jerome Ortiz, “we should have won this game.”
Silver’s defense is built around his D-line and a stellar group of lineackers led by Garrison, the team’s lead tackler, and Lockett, both of whom anchor at center.
The Bobcats, coach Mike Kovacs said, need to keep senior QB Sharpe upright long enough to distribute the ball to a solid group of receivers, and Bloomfield is also hoping their recently improved ground play will provide the crucial balance. Kovacs said Bloomfield needs to do better than they did when they first met Silver.
Colts coach Ortiz wants to join a small club of people who have won state titles as players and coaches at the same school. He was a member of Silver’s 2005 championship squad. That was the school’s last blue trophy in football. Bloomfield is in the state finals for the third time in four years, but the Bobcats haven’t won everything since 1966.
WHO: Number 2 Ruidoso (11-1) at number 4 St Michael’s (11-1)
IF: Saturday 1 p.m
WHERE: Ivan Head Stadium at Santa Fe High School
PLAYERS TO SEE: Ruidoso – Kaden Sago, Sr., RB; Cooper Pritchett, Sr., QB; Dalton Trapp, Sr., TE/DL. St. Michael – Zach Martinez, Sr., QB; Creed Chavez, Sr., WR; Marcus Leyba, Sr., RB; Taven Lozada, Sr., TE.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The upcoming winter storm rolling into southeastern New Mexico was already a factor; The Warriors were scheduled to travel to Santa Fe on Saturday morning, but Ruidoso was forced to leave on Friday instead for safety reasons.
Sago is an accomplished defender (1,670 yards, 24 TDs), although the Horsemen have experience in such things, having previously faced Raton’s standout RB Cayden Walton. St. Mike’s probably throws it a bit more than Ruidoso, with Chavez usually being the most dangerous target with great run-to-catch potential. That Horsemen defense limited the powerful No. 1 seed Socorro to six points in last week’s semifinals, so Ruidoso’s attack is sure to be tested on Saturday.
Both QBs (Pritchett, Martinez) have important playoff experience in big games and led their teams to goalscorers in teams’ semifinal wins a week ago.
A couple of experienced teams at this game and two head coaches (Joey Fernandez of the Horsemen, Kief Johnson of the Warriors) who already have state titles to their name. And both teams were runners-up last November – Ruidoso in the 4A final against Lovington, St Michael’s against Robertson in the 3A final.
The last time St. Mike’s won the state was in 2012, also at Ivan Head Stadium (vs Silver), just like Saturday’s final. Ruidoso, whose only setback this season was at 4A Portales, last won the state in 2017.