Panthers look to remain unbeaten when they face Durango

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON − In addition to all the festivities and celebrating that comes with the annual homecoming football game, sports fans will be keeping a close eye on how both Piedra Vista and the visiting Durango Demons perform as the top-ranked teams clash for the first time this season Friday night at Hutchison Stadium.

Meantime, Bloomfield will be looking to improve their early season record to 3-0 when they host Grants on Friday night. On Saturday, Shiprock will be in search of their first two-game win streak in nearly three years when they host Cuba.

Meantime, both Farmington and Aztec will be looking to rebound off tough losses last weekend when they take to the field in the third weekend of the prep football season.

Here's a preview of what to look for under the lights in San Juan County high school football.

Durango (1-0) vs. Piedra Vista (2-0), Friday, 7 p.m., Hutchison Stadium

The Demons opened their season last weekend at home, scoring 35 points in the first quarter on their way to a 56-7 rout over Farmington. The offense racked up over 250 yards, with senior Zachary Haber scoring three times, while the defense recorded three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

Piedra Vista, coming off an emotional 14-12 win at home last weekend against Class 6A Sandia, will be looking for their first 3-0 start to a season since 2016. Currently ranked second by MaxPreps in this week's Class 5A football poll, the Panthers have found ways to score both offensively and defensively, taking advantage of opponents miscues in each of their first two games this season.

"Turnovers don't mean anything unless you can turn them into points, and we've been fortunate to have that opportunity," said Panthers coach Jared Howell.

Piedra Vista's Paul Brown comes down with a touchdown reception in the end zone against Sandia's Elijah Bustillos in the third quarter on Friday, August 26, 2022 at Hutchison Stadium.

Durango will feature a number of offensive stars, namely running backs Jeric Baruch, Jaxon Fancher and Haber. Those three combined to rush for more than 130 yards on 21 carries in the win over Farmington. Fancher, JJ Hoerl and AJ Folk each caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Tyler Harms in last week's victory as well.

The Demons, coached by Todd Casebier, are currently the top-ranked Class 3A team in the state of Colorado, according to MaxPreps.

"I think they're ranked that high for a reason," said Howell. "They're tough, they're coached very well and they really flexed their muscle last week. They've got size and they've got speed so we can't afford to make mistakes."

To that end, Howell will be emphasizing the play of the Panthers offensive line, which got called for multiple procedure penalties during their win against Sandia.

"Those drove me nuts, and there are some that are correctable and some I still don't know what they were looking at," Howell said. "But there's still enough of them where they've got to go away."

The Piedra Vista vs. Durango game will be the Daily-Times game of the week, with live coverage online on our website beginning Friday at 6 p.m.

Farmington (0-2) at Los Lunas (2-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

Dual-threat quarterback Paul Cieremans has thrown for three touchdowns and run for three scores this season, as the Tigers have rolled in their first two games of the season. Their most recent win, a 43-30 decision on the road over Alamogordo, has them ranked as the fourth-best team in the most recent MaxPreps rankings among Class 6A schools.

Farmington has struggled to find its rhythm in its first two games of the season. Quarterback Trel Griego threw a pair of interceptions in their season opening loss at home against Piedra Vista, then threw two more in last week's loss on the road against Durango.

"A lot of that is on me," said Scorpions head coach Jeff Dalton. "I think we've put ourselves in situations when we're looking for the big play too soon and too quickly. When he's allowed to do his thing, he's still got a very good feel for the game."

Defensively, the Scorpions have been caught playing on their heels as well. They gave up points on deep passing routes against the Panthers, and had trouble slowing down a strong group of runners in the Demons backfield last week.

Los Lunas has rushed for more than 560 yards in two games this season.

"That's an area where they excel," Dalton said of the Los Lunas running game. "A lot of their experience is on the offensive side of the ball, so we're going to have to make sure to limit their opportunities and we're going to have to score a lot of points."

The Tigers also will be led offensively by senior running back Cash Aragon, who has three touchdowns on the season to go along with nearly 190 yards on 34 carries.

Bayfield (0-1) at Aztec (1-1), Friday, 7 p.m.

The Wolverines are coming off a tough season opener, losing at home 42-0 to San Juan (Utah), one of the state's top-ranked teams in Class 2A and off to a 3-0 start to their season.

The Tigers, after earning their first win of the season two weeks ago for new head coach Hank Strauss, took a step backwards last weekend, losing 17-8 on the road against Montezuma-Cortez.

Quarterback Marcquis Henry was picked off three times in last week's loss, despite throwing for more than 220 yards and completing 70 percent of his passes.

The Tigers trailed throughout the game last week against the Panthers, only getting on the board in the fourth quarter when Henry connected with Landon Frost in the final minutes of the game.

Aztec lost to Bayfield last year, dropping their homecoming game to the Wolverines by a final score of 46-25.

Grants (1-1) at Bloomfield (2-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

Ranked third in the state in the most recent MaxPreps poll for 4A schools, Bloomfield will be looking to extend their win streak to three straight when the Bobcats welcome the Grants Pirates.

Bloomfield has gotten exceptional play on the offense, particularly from quarterback Ryan Sharpe, who's completed more than 65 percent of his passes, with 10 touchdowns against only one interception.

The Bobcats have also excelled at special teams, with Drew Perez having scored on both punt and kickoff returns while the team has outscored their opponents by a combined margin of 117-26.

"We've really found ourselves in a good place," said Bloomfield head coach Mike Kovacs. "But there's always room for improvement and we never want to get settled into anything."

Bloomfield's Drew Perez receives a punt from Pojoaque Valley in the first quarter of their game, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 at Bobcat Stadium.

The Pirates, blown out in their opening game of the season by a final of 57-6 to Capital, bounced back with a 34-0 shutout win on the road at Gallup.

Grants is looking to end a two-game losing streak to the Bobcats, which includes a 48-41 loss in the 2019 Class 4A semifinals. The last time they met, Bloomfield went on the road and routed the Pirates by a score of 52-0.

Cuba (1-1) at Shiprock (1-1), Saturday, 1 p.m.

Led by an impressive showing by running back Jarvis Begay, the Chieftains rolled over Crownpoint 28-14 to end a 10-game losing streak.

Cuba, who lost last weekend 28-6 on the road against Zuni, will be led by senior Julian Casaus, who ran for more 150 yards in their season opening win at home over Santa Fe Indian School. Also expected to make an impact for the Rams are junior wideouts Trent Greene and Lyle Castillo.

The Chieftains will be seeking their first two-game win streak since back-to-back victories in 2019 over Wingate and Albuquerque Academy.