What: Manzano at Aztec
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Fred Cook Memorial Stadium, 455 North Light Plant Road, Aztec
Radio: FOX 1340 AM-93.9 FM and KRWN FM 92.9
AZTEC — Homecoming night will be anything but a slow dance for the Aztec Tigers on Friday night.
The Tigers (2-2) welcome 5A Manzano to Fred Cook Memorial Stadium this week, and the Monarchs (3-1) aim to spoil Aztec's festivities and end the Tigers' two-game winning streak following their first loss of the season last weekend against Mayfield.
"We know Manzano is an extremely good team that is very talented on both sides of the ball," said Aztec head coach Matt Steinfeldt. "They have won games against strong competition, but we feel like it is a game we can match up in well because we can show them some things they haven't seen yet this year."
Aztec has had success the last two weeks after two losses to Los Lunas and Goddard -- the two top-ranked teams in 4A -- in the opening weeks of the season. The Tigers have beat Raton 56-7 and Miyamura 49-27, both games coming on the road.
Manzano is currently ranked No. 7 in 5A by MaxPreps and No. 6 by NMPreps. Aztec is ranked No. 6 by MaxPreps but No. 13 in 4A by NMPreps.
The Tigers return home averaging 31.8 points per game. But Manzano's defense allowed just 14 points to Volcano Vista, 13 to Clovis and 14 to Mayfield. The Monarchs defense is led by Maclinton Cox and Cameron McMahan, who averages more than one sack per game.
"They are one of the best defenses in the state. They are stingy when it comes to allowing points," Steinfeldt said. "But the teams they have played do different things than we do. We are throwing the ball efficiently and believe we are a complete team with the run game and the passing game."
The Monarchs are very balanced on offense, rushing for an average of 128 points per game and passing for another 150.3.
Aztec's offense has found a rhythm in recent weeks as junior quarterback Marcus Crawford threw for 395 yards and five touchdowns at Raton and another 494 yards and seven touchdowns at Miyamura. He has found wide receiver Josh Harris for eight touchdowns in the last two games. Harris now has 655 yards receiving on 24 catches this year, good for an average of 27.29 yards per reception.
"I am definitely getting real comfortable moving the ball. We have had good long drives that we are finishing and that are taking up some clock," Crawford said. "Josh Harris is a good athlete, but everyone else is great, too. I think throwing to him so much the last few weeks will open up the rest of the receivers this week. Just like any defense, Manzano has holes and weaknesses we need to attack and exploit."
Aztec's defense will have to contain running back Corey Morrow, who is averaging 107 yards per game on the ground.
Ryneal Lewis-Adams has led the Aztec rushing attack. He is averaging more than 97 yards per game on the ground but has also averaged nearly 40 yards per game receiving while catching two passes for touchdowns.
"It should be a fun game for me," Lewis-Adams said. "I always love playing good competition. Playing against a team like them, I need to draw defenders to me. I want to make them believe I have the ball every play, even if I don't."
A year ago, Manzano got the best of the Tigers 47-20 in Albuquerque. The game was a turning point for the Tigers, who were also at 1-2 entering that game. Aztec went on to win six of its final eight games that year, eventually reaching the 4A state semifinals.
But, this year, Crawford believes the team has what it takes to beat the Monarchs.
"It is a big challenge for us. They are a good team to size up against and see where we are right now. It is going to be good for us the rest of the season," he said. "We can definitely beat them. There is no doubt in our minds right now."John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.