No. 2 Los Lunas ran through the No. 7 Panthers' defense on its way to a 47-7 victory to advance to the 4A state semifinals.
Junior running backs Jalen Chavez and Darron Gallegos combined for 311 yards on 43 carries and four touchdowns for the Tigers as the PV defense was unable to find an answer for the powerful Tiger duo.
"They are a very talented team and very well coached," said PV head coach Jared Howell. "They made some subtle adjustments that gave some of those talented kids some wiggle room."
Despite the disappointing end to their season, this group of Panthers can hold their heads up as they helped to put PV football back on the 4A map.
The Panthers (9-3) finished with their first winning season since 2007 and notched the program's first playoff win since 2008 with a victory over St. Pius X in the first round.
Senior Bryson Martinez thinks that this season, Piedra Vista has positioned itself to be a football power in 4A for many years to come.
"To the public, it looks like we just turned it around," Martinez said. "But behind closed doors, I feel we transformed the mentality that will ultimately reestablish PV as a dominant program year in and year out."
This Panthers squad became like a second family and that is what Martinez said he would miss most about this team.
"It's more than a team," he said. "We spend time together on and off the field. The bond we have is tremendous, and I love these guys from the seniors on down. The members of the coaching staff have all been like fathers to me. I'll literally miss every aspect of this team. It's tough."
Howell said he couldn't have asked for more dedication from his players and staff this season.
"They put the work in during the offseason," he said. "They set the tone — did extra work in the weight room. We got together as coaches in the offseason and reevaluated what we do. It's ultimately the coaches' job to put the kids in the best situation and credit goes to the staff for getting the kids in those spots."
The Panther offense got off to a fast start on the opening possession, driving down to the Los Lunas 24-yard line, but a false start penalty on fourth and inches stalled the drive, and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.
PV's defense forced a Tiger punt on the open Los Lunas possession, but Beau Clafton muffed the fair catch, giving the ball to the Tigers in great field position.
Los Lunas (11-0) took advantage of the Panther turnover, when Chavez scored from five yards out, giving the Tigers a 6-0 lead.
Los Lunas pushed the lead to 13-0 on its next drive on a five-yard run by Gallegos.
The Tigers were on the verge of extending their lead to three scores, but the Panther defense forced a fumble inside the 30-yard line.
The PV offense capitalized on the mistake when quarterback Isaiah Valdez hit Martinez on a bubble screen. Martinez took the pass and scored from nine yards out, cutting the deficit to 13-7 with just under four minutes left before halftime.
Screen passes to Martinez seemed to be the only success the PV offense had, however, as the senior finished with six catches and 95 yards in his final game.
The six point deficit was as close as PV came as the Tigers responded with two touchdowns in the final 2:16 of the first half.
Tiger quarterback Chris Wisneski found wide receiver Jacob Holland on a slant route to score from nine yards out.
Chavez set up the score with a 67-yard run down inside the 10-yard line.
"That was a big point," Howell said. "They took the momentum right back. They got us to overadjust and hit us on the counter."
Chavez then scored his second touchdown of the half from 12 yards out after Wisneski picked apart the Panther secondary to get the ball inside the 20-yard line as Los Lunas took a 27-7 lead into halftime.
The Panthers were unable to slow the Tigers in the second half.
Wisenski completed a touchdown pass to junior Chris Sanchez to cap off the first drive of the half and push the lead to 34-7.
The senior quarterback wasn't called upon often to throw but was efficient in his attempts, completing 6-9 for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
Chavez scored for a third time on the next Tiger possession on a 28-yard touchdown run.
Even with the big lead, the Los Lunas offense kept its foot on the gas pedal. After recovering the ensuing kickoff, the Tigers ran the ball down the field and scored from a yard out on a Wisneski sneak play as their lead expanded to 47-7.
The Tigers move on to face the winner of Aztec and Artesia. Those two teams face off today at 1 p.m. in Artesia.