Though the season hasn’t gone exactly according to plan for the Aztec Tigers, the team is where it wanted to be after winning the 4A state title in 2011 — back in the state playoffs with a chance to defend the title.
The title defense begins tonight at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium when the No. 6 Tigers (5-4) host No. 11 Santa Fe (5-5).
Santa Fe went 4-0 to win its district, but the Demons come into Aztec as big underdogs.
The entire Santa Fe offense has revolved around senior running back Anthony Abeyta this season. Abeyta is averaging 146.7 yards per game on the ground this season, taking the ball from quarterback Jordan Booth-Homer, who averages almost 50 yards a game on the ground himself.
The Demons don’t look to the air often, with Booth-Homer averaging just 50 passing yards per game.
Aztec’s run defense may be tested, but the Tiger linebackers should be working to contain Abeyta all game while forcing someone else to make plays.
The Tigers offense has the ability to end this one quickly. Santa Fe sophomore linebacker Isaiah Taylor has had an impressive season with 102 tackles, but the Demons will struggle to stop the passing attack of Aztec.
Aztec senior quarterback Adam Lucero is throwing for an average of 298.5 yards per game while passing for 26 touchdowns, 11 of which have gone to senior wide receiver Brad Hardin, who has also rushed for six touchdowns this year.
The Tigers know they have a chance to end this game via mercy-rule early, and that is certainly the goal.
“We need to come out strong and finish that way. Hopefully we can get them to drop their buckets,” Lucero said. “Anytime we play a team, we want to beat them 50-0. That is always our goal.”
With No. 3 Artesia awaiting the winner in the state quarterfinals, talk is already circulating down South with some Bulldog fans even calling for Santa Fe to upset Aztec.
“Last year when we played Roswell in the quarterfinals, people were saying we were going to lose then, but we ignored them and brought home the blue,” Lucero said. “That is the plan this year. We will worry about Artesia when it is time to play Artesia.”
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No. 10 St. Pius X at No. 7 Piedra Vista
The rematch is on at Hutchison Stadium.
Piedra Vista (8-2) is looking for a bit of revenge tonight as St. Pius X (5-5) rolls back into San Juan County for the third time this season.
Winners of an Oct. 19 game at Piedra Vista, the Sartans will be a confident bunch opening the playoffs at the Panthers.
In the team’s first defeat of the season, PV turned the ball over four times while committing an uncharacteristic 16 penalties en rout to a 30-28 loss.
“We aren’t going to make the costly mistakes. Four turnovers and 16 big penalties killed us last game, and we only lost by two,” said PV senior Bryson Martinez. “We won’t beat ourselves this week.”
PV defeated Kirtland Central and No. 6 Aztec before losing the final week of the season to No. 9 Farmington.
The Panthers weren’t certain another home game would be in the cards after the loss, but hosting a home playoff game means everything to the PV seniors who have never even played in the state tournament.
“Getting at least one more home game is huge for us, and we are going to make the most out of it,” Martinez said.
The Sartans’ offense revolves entirely around the run. Quarterback Javier Jaramillo is a threat to run, but Nic Stafford destroyed the Panthers defense out of the backfield in the last meeting.
However, Stafford sustained a leg injury a few weeks ago and may be questionable for tonight’s game.
With or without Stafford, the Panthers know they have to wrap up the Sartan ball carriers.
Stopping the run will be a bit more difficult without senior lineman Dylan Terry.
“That is a huge loss. He is our anchor, so to speak,” Martinez said. “But I feel we have guys who are ready to step in and have success.”
The Panthers will look to get Stratton Waller going early in the run game to wear down the Sartan defense, but PV will need a better game out of quarterback Isaiah Valdez than he had against Farmington a week ago.
Look for the junior to come out and respond well after his three-interception performance that included a fumble.
Quick screen passes will get Valdez in a rhythm early, and having a dynamic playmaker such as Beau Clafton in the backfield to take tosses will also help keep the Panthers well-rounded.
With a trip to No. 2 Los Lunas on the line, expect both teams to come out firing tonight.
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No. 9 Farmington at No. 8 Moriarty
After not being awarded a home game in the first round of the state playoffs, Farmington hits the road to face a feisty Pintos squad.
The Pintos (7-3) have been tough at home, going 4-1 and losing only to
No. 4 Belen 34-33 this season.
Since losing 42-0 to
No. 7 Piedra Vista in Week 5, Moriarty put together a five-game win streak to finish the season.
But the Scorpions (7-3) bring a powerful defense to Moriarty tonight fresh off a big win against Piedra Vista.
With an athletic defensive front and hard-hitting linebackers, the Scorps have dominated defensively.
The offense has also cleaned up its turnover problem, helping the defense win the field position battle.
“Offensively we have to take care of the ball and play smash-mouth football,” said Farmington junior running back and linebacker Austin Foutz.
Quarterback Jacob Lucas has matured along with the rest of the Farmington team this season. The junior has made smart decisions in the option running game while also showing accuracy when asked to pass.
Head coach Gary Bradley has used the play-action pass with perfect timing this year, leading to big gains through the air even though Farmington passes less than 10 times per game.
Expect this to be a tough, grueling game. While Moriarty has home-field advantage and confidence from its winning streak, Farmington’s defense will negate any advantage the Pintos may have coming into this one.
“We just have to come out ready to play and be really physcial throughout the whole game,” said Foutz. “I believe our defense is better, and we just have to show them who the real green team is.”
No. 1 Goddard awaits the winner of this matchup, but you can bet neither team has been looking past this first-round game.
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