FARMINGTON — After a slow start to the season and a series of injuries, the Aztec Tigers are back in the playoffs.
But the task ahead may be the toughest of the season for the No. 11 Tigers (4-6), as they head to Roswell to face the No. 6 Coyotes in the first round of the 5A playoffs at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“I think it comes down to our mental toughness. The last few weeks our focus has been good,” Aztec head coach Matt Steinfeldt said. “We did some good things in district. We went into it as if it was a new season, and that’s how we’re treating the playoffs. This is a third season for us.”
Roswell (6-4) finished second in District 4-5A and played playoff teams in four of its last five games, going 3-2 during that stretch.
“They have a lot of seniors and a very talented group of upperclassmen,” Steinfeldt said. “Offensively, they like to run the ball, and on defense they take a lot of chances with their blitz.”
Throwing just 13 passes per game, Roswell has relied heavily on its running game, which is led by the three-headed monster of seniors Jared Perez, Dominic Anaya and Luis Mendoza. The trio has combined for 1,830 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.
The Tigers have struggled throughout the season to slow down the running game of opposing teams, and in the week leading up to the playoffs, Aztec worked on strengthening its run defense.
“We made some defensive adjustments to shore up some of the things in our run defense. We upped the intensity level and put some kids in new areas to get us more physical against the run," Steinfeldt said.
With Roswell’s blitz-heavy defense, Steinfeldt said the Aztec offense will have to pick up the blitzers to provide time for quarterback Cody Smith to find the holes in Roswell’s defense.
Farmington at Española Valley
No. 12 Farmington (7-3) will open the first round of the playoffs on the road, traveling to Española to take on the Española Valley Sundevils at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Española Valley was rewarded the No. 5 seed after winning its first-ever district title, breaking a 24-year playoff drought.
The Sundevils (9-1) have averaged 41.8 points per game this season while outscoring opponents by 26 points per game.
“The only thing we know is they’re in the habit of winning games,” Farmington head coach Jeff Dalton said. “A lot of people talk about weak schedule, but that doesn’t matter because they know how to win games.”
The Sundevils have had the easiest schedule in 5A, playing only one team that finished the season with a record above .500. And their opponents have a combined record of 32-67.
Dalton said the Sundevils quarterback has the ability to take over games and will be a key focus of the Farmington defense.
Dalton also said the Scorps will need to be the tougher team on the field.
“Our toughness has been tested a few times this year. Some games, we backed down, and some we stepped up,” he said. “One thing we know about Española , coming from a blue-collar town, they’re going to come to play and hit hard.”
Another point of focus for the Scorps has been limiting mental mistakes.
“We feel like we finished the season with two clean, solid games, and we’re trying to keep that going,” Dalton said. “Every loss we’ve had has been the result of mental mistakes and errors, so we’ve really been trying to clean those up.”
Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.