The state high school football championship games in Classes 5A, 4A and 3A have an authentic North vs. South footprint this year.
Artesia, Silver and Ruidoso are all hitting the road for lengthy trips and Saturday championship title games in Farmington, Bloomfield and Santa Fe.
A preview (The Journal will look at the 6A title game on Saturday):
WHO: No. 1 seed Artesia (10-2) at No. 3 seed Piedra Vista (11-1)
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Hutchison Stadium, Farmington
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Artesia—Nye Estrada, jr., QB; Peyton Greathouse, jr., WR; Jesse Leroch, jr., RB. Piedra Vista—Jacob Ramsted, sr., RB; Zach Mora-Dotson, sr., RB; Logan Howell, sr., QB.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Panthers have already beaten the other three members of Artesia’s district (Goddard, Mayfield, Roswell), but now they take on the best of that league as Piedra Vista attempts to win its first football championship.
The Panthers certainly would benefit from a low-scoring game, like the one they had at Wool Bowl (13-7) in Roswell last week. Artesia has scored at least 30 points in every game, and its only losses came to 6A powers Hobbs and Cleveland.
As Artesia chases title No. 31, important to note that the Bulldogs’ top three offensive weapons — Estrada, Greathouse and Leroch — are still just juniors. Estrada has thrown for 3,100 yards and 39 touchdowns. Greathouse has 11 TD receptions and averages nearly 17 yards a grab. and Leroch has rushed for 10 scores, all in this offense which operates at a breakneck pace.
Piedra Vista will look to set an early, physical tone, run the ball, move the chains, and attempt to limit Artesia’s offensive touches.
The Panthers haven’t played for a football championship in 22 years.
“We probably would have been in a couple of more if it wasn’t for Artesia,” PV coach Jared Howell said with a laugh. Another irony: Hutchison Stadium is on the campus of the Panthers’ rival, Farmington High.
The Bulldogs and coach Jeremy Maupin were the 5A runner-up last year to Los Lunas.
WHO: No. 1 seed Silver (11-1) at No. 2 seed Bloomfield (11-1)
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Bobcat Stadium, Bloomfield
ALREADY THIS SEASON: Silver beat Bloomfield 45-6 on Oct. 7 in Socorro.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Silver—Aidan Granado, sr., RB-LB; Mason Lockett, sr. RB-LB; Matt Garrison, sr., LB. Bloomfield—Ryan Sharpe, sr., QB; Drew Perez, jr., WR; Jesse Seitzinger, jr., RB.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Colts can complete one of the great defensive seasons on Saturday; they’ve only surrendered 55 points over 12 games; even their one loss was a mere 7-0 setback to 5A semifinalist Deming. “To be honest,” Colts coach Jerome Ortiz said, “we should have won that game.”
Silver’s defense is built arond its D-line and also an oustanding group of lineackers, led by Garrison, the team’s leading tackler, and Lockett, both of whom anchor the middle.
The Bobcats, coach Mike Kovacs said, need to keep senior QB Sharpe upright long enough to distribute the ball to a solid group of receiversl, and Bloomfield also hopes its recently improved ground game will add crucial balance. Kovacs said Bloomfield must tackle better than it did the first time it met Silver.
Colts coach Ortiz is looking to join a small club of people who won state titles as a player and a coach at the same school. He was a member of Silver’s 2005 championship squad. That was the school’s last blue trophy in football. Bloomfield is in the state final for the third time in the last four years, but the Bobcats haven’t won it all since 1966.
WHO: No. 2 seed Ruidoso (11-1) at No. 4 seed St. Michael’s (11-1)
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Ivan Head Stadium at Santa Fe High School
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ruidoso—Kaden Sago, sr., RB; Cooper Pritchett, sr., QB; Dalton Trapp, sr., TE/DL. St. Michael’s—Zach Martinez, sr., QB; Creed Chavez, sr., WR; Marcus Leyba, sr., RB; Taven Lozada, sr., TE.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The impending winter storm rolling into southeastern New Mexico already has been a factor; the Warriors were going to travel to Santa Fe on Saturday morning, but Ruidoso has been forced, just to be safe, to leave instead on Friday.
Sago is an accomplished back (1,670 yards, 24 TDs), although the Horsemen have experience in such matters, having gone up against Raton’s oustanding RB Cayden Walton already. St. Mike’s probably throws it a bit more than Ruidoso does, with Chavez usually the top, dangerous target with terrific run-after-catch potentil. This Horsemen defense just limited high-powered Socorro, the No. 1 seed, to six points in the semifinals last week, so Ruidoso’s offense surely will be severely tested on Saturday.
Both QBs (Pritchett, Martinez) have important, big-game playoff experience and led their teams to clutch scoring drives in the teams’ victories in the semis a week ago.
A couple of veteran teams in this game, and two head coaches (Joey Fernandez of the Horsemen, Kief Johnson of the Warriors) who already have state titles to their names. And both these teams were state runners-up last November — Ruidoso in the 4A final to Lovington, St. Michael’s to Robertson in the 3A finale.
The last time St. Mike’s won state, in 2012, it was also at Ivan Head Stadium (against Silver), just as Saturday’s final will be. Ruidoso, whose only setback this season was at 4A Portales, last won state in 2017.