NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A battle of district rivals in the Class 6-A final as undefeated Cleveland plays host to the Rams of Rio Rancho. The two powerhouses from the City of Vision have already dueled once this year as the Strom overcame a 20-point deficit to give the Rio Rancho its only loss of the season.
Cleveland Head Coach Heath Ridenour speaks on what his players need to do to win a second time to secure a state title. “We got to move the ball,” says Ridenour. “We got to get first downs. If we can do that, we got a chance. You know, last time we struggled to put it in the end zone first half. We were in the red zone three times with no score which is pretty uncharacteristic for us. We made some mistakes, but give credit where credit is due. Their defense is pretty stout. So, we got to finish our drives. Defensively, we got to tackle. We were in position to make plays and force them to punt three times in the first half. Then big plays – explosive plays – happened that resulted in touchdowns.”
Coming from a team that faced both the Rams and Storm, Cibola head coach meets with Van to discuss what makes the championship teams special, as well as looking ahead to next season. The Cougars quarterback speaks with Jared on his successful junior season and what he can improve on as a senior.
On the other side of the ball, Rams Head Coach Gerry Pannoni says he has watched the tape from the loss multiple times and is well aware of what his team needs to do differently in order to end this game with the state title. “You know, paying attention to detail, fixing the little things that we screwed up the first time around,” says Pannoni. “When you get a lead and you kind of blow some assignments or you just don’t take care of some of the little things. It comes back to bite you. So, it’s just fixing those things.”
Moving down to class 5-A, Los Lunas is playing host to Artesia. Tigers’ Head Coach Greg Henington brings his squad to the state championship game for the time since 2017 when his then Belen Eagles team fell short to the same Bulldogs or Artesia. “They’re a good overall football team,” says Henington. “They have good offense, play solid defense, a good coaching staff. I think the biggest thing is their tradition. We feel like they’ll be leaning on that quite a bit this week.” The Los Lunas coach hopes 2021 will end differently this time – with an undefeated season.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are seeking their record 31st state title, and the man leading them will have to do it going against his former team. “It’s going to be probably going to be a little weird being on that other sideline but at the end of the day, it is the Bulldogs versus the Tigers and it’s now coach Maupin,” says the Artesia coach. “You know, so the big story is just making sure that our kids show up and play hard and get after it. Either way, I am still going to have friends over there so, but I am in Artesia, so I am bleeding orange.”
The class 4-A title will feature the Lovington Wildcats and the Ruidoso Warriors. The two squads met earlier in the season with Lovington dominating the matchup. However, in a state championship, it comes down to who wants it more. “Both teams would not be in this situation if they didn’t have really good schemes and offense and defense and good special teams,” says Lovington coach Anthony Gonzales. “The teams that come out victorious in these matchups are the teams that put forth better effort and so it’s going to be a dog fight from start to finish.”
Finally in Class 3-A, the Robertson Cardinals will host the St. Michaels Horsemen. The Cardinals won a previous matchup this season, but the Horsemen were missing key pieces to the team, out due to COVID-19 protocols. St. Michaels Head Coach Joey Fernandez knows his team is facing a tough challenge this week, but likes his team’s chances with a better squad. “The kids understand, yeah, we were without a lot of people, but we’ve gotten ourselves better the last five weeks. We’ve been working hard to make sure that we can play physical ball with them. We know they are going to bring out their A-game and we have to bring out our A-game too.”
All championship games will kick off at 1 p.m. Tune in to Football Friday Night next week on Fox New Mexico for highlights of championship week, as well as postseason awards including the spirit stick.