FARMINGTON — Two teams on different paths are set for a big clash at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium.
No. 7 Piedra Vista (6-2 overall, 1-0 District 1-4A) rolls into Aztec to face the No. 14 Aztec Tigers (3-5, 0-1) in a critical game for both teams.
The PV Panthers are trying to stay on target for a district championship showdown with No. 3 Farmington (7-1, 1-0) on Nov. 8, but first they must take down the Tigers, who desperately need two wins to finish the year with a shot at a playoff spot.
"It is always dangerous to play a team like Aztec when they are in the position they are," said PV head coach Jared Howell. "They are a team that is a wounded animal with its back against the wall. They are going to throw out all the stops against you. They have everything to play for, and we expect a very well-prepared Aztec team that is hungry and hard-nosed."
Though the pressure is turned up in Aztec this week, head coach Matt Steinfeldt said the coaches have been telling the boys they are in a must-win situation for weeks. After going 3-4 through the non-district schedule against quality opponents, Aztec hoped to repeat as district champ for a seventh consecutive season, but a 37-0 loss to Farmington last week greatly hurt the Tigers' chances.
With games against PV and No. 12 Kirtland Central (6-2, 0-1), Steinfeldt believes there is still a way into the playoffs if his team can win out.
"We have to win both games to get back in the playoffs," Steinfeldt said. "Unfortunately, we lost an opportunity versus FHS to capitalize and get in better position."
Aztec's defense was torched by a Farmington running game that went for 298 yards. The Tigers have a tough assignment this week trying to contain PV's lightning quick Beau Clafton, who has been a big play maker as a receiver and running back this year.
"Our defense has spent the entire week identifying where (Clafton) gets the ball and where he is on all plays," Steinfeldt said. "He is a game changer, and the first step is making sure we never lose focus of him."
The Panthers have used a stable of tail backs, and quarterback Isaiah Valdez has had success with read-option runs as well as passing the ball.
Aztec's pass-heavy offense was held in check by Farmington's athletic secondary, and it doesn't get any easier for the Tigers' wide receivers this week going against tough corner backs, including Grayson Tracy.
Piedra Vista's defense is focusing on stopping Aztec's star running back Ryneal Lewis-Adams, and Howell is confident in his secondary's ability, especially after the team had five interceptions against Kirtland Central in a 27-0 win a week ago. Aztec quarterback Marucs Crawford threw three interceptions against Farmington in last week's contest.
"Ryneal is a heck of an athlete and a key cog in the Aztec offense, but he is not the only guy they have," Howell said. "Our defense will be tempted to go for the ball. Aztec is a team that makes a living throwing the ball. Their receivers will get their catches, but we just have to make sure those don't turn into explosive plays."
Howell has been impressed with his team's improvement each week as the competition has gotten tougher. Steinfeldt is looking for better execution from his squad.
"Last week versus FHS, our offense shut down. We never got into our game plan and never executed because we had way too many errors," Steinfeldt said. "The players have to match the expectations with their commitment if we are going to win games."
Howell said the Panthers won't look past the Tigers as they go for their second win against Aztec in as many years. Steinfeldt said his team has to focus on each play in an effort to make a run at a playoff spot.
"I think every game in the district is going to be competitive, and now even more so because Kirtland Central is far more competitive than last year. Every team has to play the games, and they can't take one off," Steinfeldt said. "I hope all the teams beat up on each other and a dark horse like ourselves can get back in the mix."
Our score: Piedra Vista 26, Aztec 12
Kirtland Central at Farmington High
No. 3 Farmington High (7-1, 1-0 District 1-4A) and No. 12 Kirtland Central (6-2, 0-1) had very different results to open district play last week.
FHS dominated Aztec in the second half to come away with a 37-0 victory while KCHS struggled to move the ball as it was shut out by Piedra Vista 26-0.
The win by the Scorpions put them in solid position to get a first round bye in the state playoffs if they can close out the season well.
The Broncos, meanwhile, are sitting on the playoff bubble and know they need to come up with a big victory if they want to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
The running game will be key for both teams.
FHS running backs Brian Farley and Austin Foutz have both put up big numbers on the ground, while the Broncos' Keishaun Aspaas has played well all season and taken the majority of the carries in recent games.
Our Score: Farmington 35, Kirtland Central 13
Wingate at Bloomfield
The No. 4 Bobcats (5-3 overall, 1-0 District 1-3A) opened district play as anticipated with a dominant victory at Thoreau, and Bloomfield will be expecting a similar result against Wingate.
Bloomfield defeated the Hawks 52-0 to start its district slate, while the No. 19 Bears (4-5, 0-2) dropped their matchup with Thoreau 50-14 on Oct. 18.
The win ended a two-game losing streak for the Bobcats, who dropped games to San Juan County rivals Farmington and Kirtland Central.
It's hard to see the Bears giving the Bobcats much of a challenge in this game.
Wingate has also been blown out by Shiprock and Navajo Prep earlier in the year.
Bloomfield has had good performances against Wingate in the past, defeating the Bears 51-0 last season.
The Bobcats will rely on senior quarterback Robert Lyon to guide the offense, which is expected to be without running back Adrian Vigil and wide receiver Tytis Nez.
Our score: Bloomfield 54, Wingate 0
Thoreau at Shiprock
No. 15 Shiprock dominated Wingate in its district opener last week and will try to build on that win as the Chieftains get set to host a stronger Thoreau team.
The Chieftains (3-5, 1-0 District 1-3A) had an easy time with Wingate to start district play last week, defeating the Bears 50-6.
No. 16 Thoreau (5-3, 1-1) also didn't have much of a problem with the Bears, winning 50-14 in their matchup.
The Chieftains established their running game last week with McKailin Newman to compliment their two quarterbacks, Ryan Nez and Irwin Holiday.
A strong defense has been key for Shiprock in its victories.
The Chieftains are allowing just 2.7 points per game in their three victories, but have given up 54.4 points per game in their five losses.
A win by Shipock sets up a home game to decide the district title against Bloomfield next week.
Our Score: Shiprock 41, Thoreau 13
Navajo Pine at Navajo Prep
No. 13 Navajo Prep (7-1 overall, 2-0 District 1-2A) has been on cruise control much of the season with six of its seven wins coming by mercy rule.
The Eagles easily dispatched Cuba 50-0 last Saturday and will look to do the same today against No. 19 Navajo Pine (5-3, 2-1) in the team's final home game of the regular season.
Pine has had a couple of tight games in district play this season, losing to Newcomb 6-0 and beating Cuba 34-28, before blowing out Dulce 50-0.
The Warriors also struggled against Thoreau, a team Prep defeated 50-0, losing 44-6.
The Eagles offense will again rely on quarterback Tyler Sorensen and his ability to spread the ball around to an assortment of Prep skills players.
Sorensen is coming off of a strong game against Cuba, throwing six touchdowns and one interception in the win.
The Eagles' defense has been strong most of the season, posting six shutouts in eight games.
Our Score: Navajo Prep 50, Navajo Pine 0