FARMINGTON — District title hopes are on the line every game over the next three weeks, but perhaps no game will mean more than when Farmington visits Aztec.
In the 1-4A opener for both teams, No. 4 Farmington High (6-1) visits the six-time defending district champion Aztec Tigers (3-4). Both schools have had two weeks to prepare for the game following byes in Week 8.
Farmington aims to prove its time has come to finally get past Aztec, while the Tigers are ready to show their early-season losses say more about their tough schedule than about their prospects of reaching the state playoffs.
"We know the teams we have played have been extremely challenging. We know the other teams in the district have had opponents that had posed challenges as well, but we know the teams we have gone up against week in and week out have tested our mettle," said Aztec head coach Matt Steinfeldt. "We know what the very best in the state have to offer, and now we are ready to begin our real season with three good teams the next few weeks."
Farmington High head coach Gary Bradley could not be reached by press time for comment. But Bradley has said that he knows Aztec is still a formidable opponent, regardless of its record so far.
"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. Bradley could not be reached for additional comment at press time Thursday.
Aztec has recently been the highest-flying offense in 1-4A, but Farmington enters the game averaging almost 36 points per game. Running backs Brian Farley and Austin Foutz can both bust big runs or lower their shoulder pads to pick up three or four yards on any given carry. Quarterback Jacob Lucas has been smart with the football in the option game all year and has also shown this year that he can throw the ball well.
Still, the Tigers are scoring nearly 32 points per game. The majority of the workload has fallen on senior running back Ryneal Lewis-Adams, who has helped the Tigers rush for an average of 118 yards per game.
"Everything runs through Ryneal Lewis-Adams," Steinfeldt said. "We would be lying if we said it didn't. Certainly Marcus (Crawford) has developed a lot at quarterback this year and has been very productive, but Ryneal will still carry a bulk of the load on offense."
Crawford, a junior first-year starting quarterback, has been efficient this year. He is averaging more than 235 yards passing per game while completing around 62 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. The Farmington defense hopes to get a good pass rush and make things harder on Crawford to force a few more turnovers.
When the Aztec defense has created turnovers, the Tigers have been effective, despite giving up big chunks of yards.
"The focus the last two weeks has been on Farmington's option game. Option teams sometimes put the ball on the ground, and we are looking for ways to make that happen," Steinfeldt said.
Though this game is tough to call, we give the edge to Farmington's experienced defense.
Our score: Farmington 26, Aztec 20
No. 7 Kirtland Central (6-1) at No. 9 Piedra Vista (5-2)
Homecoming night for Piedra Vista also signals the beginning of District 1-4A games.
The Panthers return home after routing St. Pius X 50-6 at UNM Stadium a week ago. The Kirtland Central Broncos enter the contest on a five-game winning streak after beating Bloomfield 25-14.
PV head coach Jared Howell said his team has been focused all week and hasn't let the homecoming distractions take away from their preparation.
"You learn to roll with it and make homecoming an asset more than a distraction," Howell said. "Our focus is on a great Kirtland team that is playing well. Coach (Kevin) Graham is doing a great job out there, and their kids are believing."
Graham believes this game will be the Broncos' biggest test since falling to Durango, Colo., 42-7 on Sept. 6.
"Piedra Vista has a ton of speed that we haven't seen since Durango, and we didn't do so well with Durango. We hope we have improved to the point where we can give PV a game," he said. "A win would be major for us, but we are just hoping to go out and get better and let the chips fall where they may."
On paper, the two teams are fairly even. Piedra Vista is averaging nearly 35 points per game, and Kirtland Central is averaging fewer than 31. Both teams are also fairly balanced running and passing the ball, though PV's Beau Clafton will be the biggest weapon in the game.
However, Howell believes Kirtland's Keishaun Aspaas also has the tools to be a gamebreaker.
"Kirtland has good-sized kids up front and a nice running back in Aspaas. They run the ball well, and Aspaas has great vision. With the big horses he has up front to block, he is tough to stop," Howell said. "(Christian) Mackey can also hurt you a lot of ways with his size, speed and ability to catch the ball at tight end."
Though Kirtland is ranked higher in MaxPreps, the Broncos are still just No. 14 in the NMPreps poll while PV sits at No. 7. A win would be huge for the Broncos as they chase a playoff berth.
Our score: Piedra Vista 24, Kirtland Central 15
Radio: KNMI-FM 88.9, KENN 92.1 FM and FOX 93.9 FM
No. 3 Bloomfield (4-3) at No. 15 Thoreau (5-2)
Bloomfield begins the defense of its District 1-3A title with a road game against Thoreau.
The Bobcats have run into trouble the last two weeks against 4A competition, dropping games to Farmington and Kirtland Central. They hope to rebound against the Hawks who began their district season last week by beating Wingate 50-14.
Bloomfield had an easy time with Thoreau in its match up last season, defeating the Hawks via mercy rule 54-0.
Injuries have plagued the Bobcats in their last two games, losing running back Adrian Vigil and wide receiver Tytis Nez to knee injuries.
It's unknown if either will play against the Hawks, and, if they are unable to play, Ray Sanchez, Joshua Stowell and Jacob Langford will likely play bigger roles in the offense.
The Hawks have won five of their last six games since dropping their season opener to Navajo Prep 50-0.
Despite the five wins, Thoreau is ranked No. 15 out of the 19 teams in 3A and has played the second easiest schedule according to MaxPreps.
Our score: Bloomfield 52, Thoreau 0
No. 16 Shiprock (2-5, 0-0 District 1-3A) at No. 18 Wingate (4-4, 0-1)
Shiprock opens District 1-3A play when it faces Wingate tonight.
The Chieftains have lost their last two games and will be looking to break out of that funk against the Bears, who are on a three-game losing streak.
Wingate started its district play last week with a 50-14 loss to Thoreau.
Each team lost to Navajo Prep earlier this season, and both played Zuni, with Shiprock winning 49-0 and Wingate losing 20-8.
The Chieftains have defeated the Bears in each of the past five seasons, including a 31-6 win last year.
Shiprock will rely on a balanced offensive attack with Ryan Nez and Irwin Holiday spliting time at quarterback.
Defensively, the Chieftains have been hit and miss, allowing just more than 54 points per game in their losses. But they have shut out their opponents in their two wins.
This will be Shiprock's last road game of the season. The Chieftains finish up the year with home games against Thoreau and Bloomfield.
Our score: Shiprock 48, Wingate 12
No. 11 Navajo Prep (6-1, 1-0 District 1-2A) at No. 22 Cuba (1-6, 1-1)
Navajo Prep has been flying high all season and will look to continue its winning ways against Cuba on Saturday.
The Eagles won their district opener last week by shutting out Newcomb 50-0.
Five of Prep's six victories this season have come via mercy rule, and it's likely the Rams will join the list of blow out victims.
Cuba has struggled all season long, losing its first six games before finally getting into the win column last week against Dulce.
The Rams have lost to Santa Fe Indian and Wingate this season, both schools that Prep defeated via the mercy rule already this year.
Prep will continue to ride quarterback Tyler Sorensen's hot hand as he looks to spread the ball out to a plethora of offensive weapons, including Isaiah Yazzie and Mikaele Mauga.
Expect another game to end at halftime for the Eagles.
Our score: Navajo Prep 50, Cuba 0
What: Farmington at Aztec
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Fred Cook Memorial Stadium, 455 North Light Plant Road, Aztec
Listen Live: 92.9 KRWN FM.