With three teams in the top 10, the next three weeks of 4A football will be thrilling.
Kicking off the action at Hutchison Stadium tonight is defending 4A state champion and No. 6-ranked Aztec (3-3 overall, 0-0 District 1-4A) against No. 10 Farmington (5-2, 0-0).
In what has been the only meaningful game in the district in recent years, this year's game figures to be a close game that the host Scorpions hope to turn into a defensive struggle.
“Aztec is a very explosive and powerful offense. Adam Lucero is probably one of the best athletes in the state,” said Farmington head coach Gary Bradley of Aztec's senior quarterback. “We have to rely on what we do best. We think our best attribute is our discipline. We know Aztec will have some success on offense but hopefully when push comes to shove our discipline shines through and we can hold them to not too damaging of a result.”
Winners of three consecutive games, the Scorpions can prove their strength to the entire state with a win tonight against the Tigers.
Farmington's defense has been arguably the toughest in the district to date, but Lucero is expecting to have his share of success.
“Farmington has a very solid team, as they do every year. They have good athletes and a good coaching staff,” Lucero said. “I think that we have a good enough offense to drive the ball on any team we play.
They have some solid athletes on their defensive line, but I have full trust my offensive line will get the job done.”
Kyle Reynolds has given the Scorps big play capability in the return game as well as on defense as a ball-hawking defensive back.
Junior quarterback Jacob Lucas has shown the ability to make plays when called on, however, and don't be surprised if the Scorps have a few tricks to surprise Aztec.
“Lucas runs the offense efficiently. If he has to drop back and pass, he has shown he can do that,” Bradley said of his quarterback. “We are going to do what we do best, and ultimately that is to run the football. We aren't out to impress anybody or show anybody anything. We are out to execute and he understands that. Watching him grow to where he is now, from a freshman to a junior, has been incredibly exciting. I know he is ready for the big game.”
But the real strength is in the running game of Austin Foutz, Essiel Carrasco and Brian Farley, who have all run the ball with tenacity this season.
This game figures to come down to turnovers, and that is a battle Aztec is determined to win.
“As an offensive unit, we discuss taking care of the football in all facets of the game. In any high school game, the turnover margin dictates the outcome,” said Aztec head coach Matt Steinfeldt. “Farmington is teaching the same times, so it is our job as a defense to force some turnovers and get the ball in our offense’s hands.”
Led by Lucero at quarterback and defensive back, Aztec has turned the corner and learned from a tough schedule that led to hard losses early in Steinfeldt’s first season.
“We are excited to get through the first six games and we are pleased with the direction we have taken the season,” Steinfeldt said. “Now in district we get to show the local fans how we can compete and what we can do on the field.”
The running game is producing, which will be much needed to keep pressure off Lucero and the air-attack tonight.
Lucero has been making big plays in the passing game to Brad Hardin and a solid set of supporting wide receivers all season. As the chemistry of the offense grows, so does the stat line.
“As the season started, we knew we had two great players in Lucero and Hardin, but we also knew we needed other guys to step up,” Steinfeldt said. “We have seen that with Cody Rinerson and Braden Goimarac on offense and guys such as Wyatt Schlueter and Jake Harris on defense.”
Having two weeks off to prepare for Farmington should be a big benefit to the Tigers’ offense.
The key matchup will be on the offensive and defensive lines. Whoever can get the bigger push should dictate the game.
Aztec’s linebackers will also be a big focus when the Farmington running backs get to the second level of the defense.
One more key matchup will be in the stands. Aztec has turned Farmington’s stadium black when playing at the Hutch in recent years.
“We have a great community and we have seen it all year long with the support we receive. They want to see our players and help take care of them, and I have a good feeling we will be bringing a bunch of fans to the game,” Steinfeldt said.
With so much at stake, it will be interesting to see if Farmington’s fans can bring the green.
“We have some great fans in Farmington and I think they have been waiting for a big game or a team to really shine through,” Bradley said. “Shoot we have a great district right here with three schools within 12 miles of each other going at it. I don’t know a better place there is to be and get loud than Hutchison Stadium when we play Aztec. It should be a beautiful and exciting night. Aztec fans sure have a lot of pride, and I sure hope we get our town there.”
Both teams know the importance of the game and expect it to come down to the fourth quarter.
“Farmington is extremely good. The game will be competitive all the way through,” Steinfeldt said. “Both teams will have moments of success during the game and we just have to perform when it comes down to it.”
No. 4 Piedra Vista at No. 19 Kirtland Central
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bronco Stadium
What to watch: Coming off its first loss of the season, Piedra Vista looks for district win No. 1 in Kirtland.
It is a good opportunity for the No. 4 Panthers to get back on track against a Broncos defense that allowed 30 points to Durango, 41 to Los Alamos and 48 to Bloomfield last week.
The Panthers (6-1, 0-0) might not be at full strength, but the running game of Stratton Waller and dynamic pass attack from quarterback Isaiah Valdez should be enough.
Expect Bryson Martinez to have another big game and for the Panthers to work Wyatt Hardy, Kolt Munoz and Jacob Armijo into the offense, especially if Beau Clafton is unable to play this week after suffering an injury a week ago against St. Pius X.
The Broncos (3-4, 0-0) have been a streaky team this year, losing three in a row before winning three straight.
Kirtland hopes to avoid back-to-back losses this week, but the task will definitely be tough against PV.
However, the Panthers run defense was exposed by a talented St. Pius squad a week ago. Expect Kirtland Central head coach Kevin Graham to try to get all of his backs involved early to establish a rhythm.
Thoreau at No. 5 Bloomfield
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Bobcat Stadium
What to watch: Fresh off a 48-0 drumming of 4A Kirtland Central, the No. 5 Bobcats aim to show why they are the top team in District 1-3A tonight.
Bloomfield’s young team is rounding into form at the perfect time as district play begins tonight against Thoreau (2-4 overall, 1-0 District 1-3A). The Bobcats (3-4, 0-0) can take a big step toward the playoffs by securing a win against the Hawks.
Thoreau has not been impressive so far in 2012, losing 54-12 to Navajo Prep and 62-14 to Ramah among other losses to Crownpoint and Estancia.
But the Hawks ride a two-game win streak into Bobcat Stadium after wins against Newcomb and Wingate.
However, the Bobcats defense will be a tough to score on tonight for Thoreau and Bloomfield’s offense has too many weapons for the Hawks to stop.
Look for Bloomfield to get an early lead and build on it as the game progresses.
Wingate at No. 14 Shiprock
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Chieftain Stadium
What to watch: The final home game of the year is a must-win for Shiprock.
The Chieftains (3-4, 0-0) aim to bounce back from consecutive road losses to Questa and Escalante with a win over district opponent Wingate (1-6, 0-1).
Playing the Bears should be a welcome sight to the Chieftains, especially at home after two long road trips.
The Chieftains won the 2011 matchup 61-6 and should be able to have similar success tonight in Shiprock.
Shiprock needs to keep pace with Bloomfield in District 1-3A to create a championship scenario the final week of the regular season when the Chieftains visit the Bobcats.
If the Chieftains can get off to a fast start and pick up a big win tonight, it will provide much needed momentum before the team hits the road again next week to face Thoreau.
Cuba at Navajo Prep
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Navajo Prep
What to watch: The Fighting Eagles are ready to record consecutive wins for the first time since Sept. 7 with a big District 1-2A home game tonight.
Navajo Prep (3-4 overall, 1-0 District 1-2A) can remain perfect in the district tonight with a win against Cuba (1-7, 0-1).
The Eagles finally got the offense going again last week against Newcomb after sputtering during a four-game losing streak.
Quarterback Tyler Sorenson will look to lead the offense along with play maker Mika Mauga against a Cuba Rams defense that has allowed opponents to score 48 or more six times this season.
It is time for Navajo Prep to get some momentum going before the final road game of the year against rival Navajo Pine.