A year after three teams finished atop the District 1-4A football standings, similar results are again likely.
No team wants to see a district championship decided by a tiebreaker, but that is exactly what happened in District 1-4A football in 2012 as Aztec, Farmington and Piedra Vista all finished 2-1.
Aztec was awarded its sixth consecutive district championship after a tiebreaker separated the Tigers from the rest of the field. Piedra Vista took second and was rewarded a home game that led to an easy first-round playoff win. The Farmington Scorpions took third and had to hit the road in the first round, where they fell by 25 points to Moriarty.
Though Aztec (3-4) has had its shares of ups and downs again this season, every other team in the district knows it will be hard to knock off the Tigers for the first time since Piedra Vista won 1-4A in 2006.
"If there is an advantage out there, we are certainly hoping we have it," said Aztec head coach Matt Steinfelt. "Our goal and expectation is to win the district, but there are three other teams thinking the same thing."
The Tigers enter the district season ranked the lowest among the four schools in the MaxPreps poll at No. 14. Farmington High (6-1) has the highest rank at No. 4 while Kirtland Central (6-1) and Piedra Vista (5-2) fall in at No. 7 and No. 9, respectively.
The argument can be made that winning district is more important to Aztec's playoff chances than any of the other three teams. Schools such as Artesia (3-5), Moriarty (3-4) and Del Norte (4-3) all sit ahead of the Tigers in the rankings. Artesia will have played as strong of a schedule as Aztec, if not stronger. Meanwhile, Del Norte has a 14-point win against Aztec on its resume, and Moriarty holds a 17-point win against Piedra Vista.
"We have preached to the kids it has only been the preseason to this point. We have faced the best the state has to offer in Goddard and Los Lunas, but now we are going into our real season," Steinfeldt said. "If we come out successful, we will get in the playoffs. With our players, there is no consideration of finishing second. All that matters is going 1-0 each of the next three weeks."
A lot could be decided in Week 1 as district favorite Farmington travels to play Aztec on Friday. Farmington High head coach Gary Bradley knows the Tigers will be as tough to beat as ever, and he said his team isn't looking at state rankings.
"I don't buy into anything about Aztec being up or down. They are a playoff team, and they are a deep-in-the-playoffs team. They still have the mojo from winning state a few years ago," Bradley said on Oct. 11, following his team's 50-point mercy rule win against Bloomfield.
Farmington's defense is what will carry the Scorpions through the district schedule. As the games get colder, Bradley's team has the toughness to come out on top.
"Every team is going to have to come to work," Bradley said.
A year ago, the Scorpions upset the PV Panthers in the final game of the regular season to keep the district title out of the hands of their rivals. The Panthers aim to bounce back from that heartbreak, but head coach Jared Howell said it is a long road ahead with games against Kirtland Central and Aztec before his team faces Farmington.
"It is a great thing having this much parity in the district and across the state. The teams that play the best over the next three weeks will bring home all the accolades, and any team in our district is capable of doing so," Howell said. "Everyone's dream is still alive right now, but everyone knows it will be tough."
Every team in the district has been impressed by the play of Kirtland Central so far this season. Howell said the strength of the district could help three teams make the state playoffs, but Broncos head coach Kevin Graham said his team can't rely on its 6-1 record and must win games in district to earn a spot in the bracket.
"I am hoping all four of our teams make the playoffs, but, realistically, I know we have to be successful. We have got to win district games, and that is what we are hoping to do starting this week at PV," Graham said. "We feel as long as we take care of the football and run to the ball on defense, we have a good shot every night."
Piedra Vista and Aztec have the more explosive offenses, while Farmington and Kirtland Central will have advantages on the offensive line and defensively. Ball security will go a long way in deciding which team comes out on top, and it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see another tiebreaker have to determine a champion.John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.