There is a line that runs through the football relationship between Aidan Armenta and Ian Sanchez, a line that originated over a decade ago and one that terminates Saturday at Wilson Stadium.
That line traces back to their days as little boys in the neighborhood, to their Saturday mornings in YAFL uniforms, and later to the summer days of 7 on 7s.
“Brothers,” La Cueva football coach Brandon Back said of his massively productive and often unstoppable quarterback/slot receiver duo.
There’s arguably not been a more electric or effective QB/receiver combo this season in New Mexico than Armenta and Sanchez.
Armenta is the senior quarterback who soon will be sign with the University of New Mexico. Sanchez is his childhood friend, Armenta’s favorite target and a touchdown-making machine for the aerial-happy Bears.
“When me and him are on and clicking,” said Sanchez, “we’re the best in the state.”
These two almost never are not clicking, and their production is one of the major story lines of Saturday’s Class 6A state championship game between the second-seeded Bears (11-1) and No. 1 Cleveland (10-2) at Wilson Stadium.
“When you have guys that make you look good, it doesn’t give you anxiousness or nervousness,” Armenta said with a smile.
Armenta has thrown 45 touchdown passes; 22 have landed in the hands of Sanchez, who has 92 catches (about 7½ catches a game) for 1,590 yards.
“I’m so comfortable with Ian,” said Armenta, who likens their football relationship to the one that defines Las Vegas Raiders (and chums) QB Derek Carr and WR Devante Adams. “I know exactly what he’s gonna do.”
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Sanchez certainly is no ordinary weapon; there’s only been one game this season in which Sanchez hasn’t caught a touchdown pass, and he’s had multiple TD receptions in half of La Cueva’s 12 games. He scores at a rate usually reserved for high school running backs.
“We knew he had that potential,” said Back, and La Cueva certainly has the recent pedigree at the receiver position (think Reece Wilkinson, Connor O’Toole, Exodus Ayers) to have an understanding of how Sanchez would and could pan out. “That’s where we hang our hat.”
Sanchez, despite his gaudy receiving numbers, said he only has a pair of NAIA offers so far. Which seemingly makes Saturday the last time he will be catching passes from Armenta in any official capacity.
Exodus Ayers was lined up as the likely No. 1 receiver for the Bears this year coming off a huge junior season, but then Ayers left just prior to the season for a prep school in New Hampshire.
“We relied a lot on X, but I knew with him leaving, I’d have a bigger role,” Sanchez said. “I knew going into 7 on 7s, the way me and Aidan were working together, I knew a big season was coming.”
Back in August, Back said he was confident in his receiving corps and its ability to fill the receptions and touchdowns void created by Ayers’ departure. That was especially true of Sanchez and Jackson Hix, who has 11 touchdowns of his own.
This was true even in the summer of 2021, when Sanchez broke his collarbone, setting him back for a couple of months. But Back, and Armenta, said Sanchez always clearly possessed the traits of a No. 1 receiver.
It’s been the remarkable chemistry between Armenta and Sanchez that has defined this La Cueva offense nearly the entire season. And that goes back to when they were 6 or 7 years old.
“I knew how special he was,” Armenta said. “I knew it would translate onto the field pretty easily. (It’s about) trusting him no matter what. I know he’s gonna be in that spot where I want him to be.”