The Thanksgiving Day practice was a goal that No. 7 Piedra Vista (9-2) set at the beginning of the season as the team gets ready for No. 2 Los Lunas.
"It's such an amazing feeling and truly a blessing. One of the goals this year was to practice on Thanksgiving," said Panther senior Bryson Martinez. "It means we are in the playoffs after round one, and it definitely beats sitting at home just watching football on Thanksgiving."
PV will have its hands full with the 10-0 Tigers, though.
Since Los Lunas beat Aztec 50-28 in the opening game of the season, its defense has allowed just 24 points in nine games, including five shutouts.
On the offensive side of the ball, Los Lunas has been equally as dominant.
The Tigers have averaged 43.2 points per game, and have been held under 40 points on only two occasions.
Junior running back Jalen Chavez has powered the Los Lunas attack this season, running for 1176 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
Slowing Chavez will be the key to the Panthers upset bid.
"We have been putting a lot of emphasis on stopping their running game," Martinez said. "We feel if we can put them in situations where they must throw, our secondary can take advantage and our d-line can pin their ears back and get after the quarterback."
The PV secondary will be called upon to
Senior quarterback Chris Wisneski has thrown 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions for the Tigers.
The Panthers will need to establish their running game with Stratton Waller, Beau Clafton and Isaiah Valdez to keep the explosive Los Lunas offense on the sideline.
No. 6 Aztec at No. 3 Artesia
Epic traditions for Aztec football — practicing on Thanksgiving and playoff games against Artesia.
The No. 6-ranked and defending 4A state champion Tigers (6-4) spent yet another Thanksgiving practicing for a state playoff game. In recent years that has been in preparation for a state semifinal, but with the holiday falling the week of the quarterfinals the road left ahead is still a long one.
Thursday was head coach Matt Steinfeldt's first Thanksgiving on the practice field with the Tigers, but he said the team's experience dealing with practice on the holiday made matters easier.
"It helps with parents more than anything because they understand and aren't so angry with me for stealing their kids on Thanksgiving," Steinfeldt said. "We have done this the last 10 years in Aztec and these seniors have experienced it three times now. They are acclimated to the holiday week of practice."
For Aztec senior quarterback Adam Lucero, there is no better place to be than Fred Cook Memorial Stadium for a Thanksgiving morning practice in preparation for the No. 3 Bulldogs (8-2).
"I am thrilled to play Artesia one more time and I wouldn't want to go anywhere else for the quarters," Lucero said after the Tigers dismantled Santa Fe 63-13 in the first round of the playoffs.
Lucero was unsure if the win against Santa Fe would send any messages across the state that the defending champs are ready to make another deep push, but he said he hopes the team does its talking on the field this week in the Bulldog Bowl.
"We are clicking at the right time. We had a good game (against Santa Fe) but we still are not satisfied," he said. "I want to really wreck some teams."
Artesia rolled through the regular season, losing only twice en rout to a first-round bye in the state playoffs.
The Bulldogs fell only twice -- a 54-27 loss at home to 5A Las Cruces and a 49-19 road loss to No. 1 Goddard.
The only comparable games for the Tigers and Bulldogs are against Goddard and Del Norte. Artesia faired better against Goddard compared to Aztec's crushing 63-0 loss at the Woolbowl, but the Tigers made easier work out of Del Norte, beating the Knights 57-17 while Artesia took a 48-26 road win in the final week of the regular season against the non-district foe.
Though the Tigers have not fared well in the majority of big games this season, Aztec's coaches and players believe the team is rounding into form at the right time with key players stepping up.
"We are clicking at the right time. Since the beginning of the season we have talked about peaking at the right time, and this is the perfect time to do it," Lucero said.
To stop the Bulldogs, Lucero will have to be as sharp in the defensive secondary as he is passing in the pocket.
Artesia averages 332.9 passing yards per game while rushing for 131.
Junior quarterback Trevor Eulenbach has thrown for 29 touchdowns and 2,411 yards this season.
The Bulldogs have a well-rounded set of wide receivers, too. Senior wide out Miguel Rodriguez has 10 touchdown catches while fellow senior Weston Leaonard has nine. Chipping in eight more is junior Deion Wesson.
This match will be won and lost through the air. Whichever team can avoid interceptions and score over the top should have the advantage.
Lucero and his weapons, Brad Hardin, Braden Goimarac and Cody Rinerson, believe they can matchup and outplay any group on the other side of the field.
Lucero is averaging 272 yards per game through the air and he has thrown for 30 touchdowns this season.
Hardin leads the pack with 13 touchdowns while Rinerson has six.
Running back Ryneal Lewis-Adams had his biggest game of the season against Santa Fe last week, totaling 246 yards of total offense.
The Tigers will need him to be equally productive Saturday to keep the Artesia defense guessing.
While most around the state won't give Aztec much of a chance to advance past this week's game at Artesia, the Tigers are never short on confidence and you can expect Aztec to defend its title with everything it has Saturday at the Bulldog Bowl.
No. 5 Lovington at No. 4 Bloomfield
Bloomfield was excited to get some work in on Thanksgiving as the team gets ready for its first playoff game since 2009.
"It's something you dream of doing -- getting out and playing football on Thanksgiving day," said senior Josh Archibeque.
The Bobcats (6-4) have their work cut out for them as they host the three-time defending 3A state champion No. 5 Lovington (5-6) on Saturday.
Even though the Wildcats come into the game with a losing record, Bloomfield head coach Bruce Hatch knows his side is in for a fight if they want to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2008.
"They've played a tremendous schedule. They are a good team, make no mistake about it," Hatch said. "It's one of those things where those kids are used to success. When the time comes, they are going to be there and they are going to produce. We have to come in ready to attack them."
Lovington faced the most difficult schedule in 3A, facing top 4A teams, No. 1 Goodard and No. 3 Artesia, as well as the 3A No. 1 St. Michael's.
The key for the Bobcats is to get off to a fast start, Hatch said.
"It's going to come down to how we come out in the first quarter after having the week off," he said. "You're always worried about how you're going to open up the game. We've had some really good practices the last week and a half."
The Bobcat defense comes into the matchup playing it's best football of the year after shutting out four straight opponents.
That defense will need to step up again to stop the powerful Lovington running game.
"We have to work at stopping their run," Hatch said. "They have a couple of good running backs that come down hill hard and we have to be there shut them down."
The Bloomfield offense will need to establish the running game with Archibeque, Anthony Whisenhunt and Adrian Vigil to be successful against the Wildcat defense.
"If we can run the ball well, we'll be able to open up the pass," Hatch said.