LAS CRUCES – Little went to Las Cruces in the first half of Friday night’s 42:24 loss to Cleveland in the Class 6A semifinal, but for a fleeting moment there was hope.
I hope the Bulldawgs can reverse the recent tradition of Las Cruces High Schools that fail against the newly discovered powerhouse Rio Rancho High Schools. I hope the Bulldawgs were able to restore their proud, multi-year championship expectations. Hope Las Cruces could break four first-half touchdowns and deliver the biggest surprise of the season.
And hope the Bulldawgs can return to the state championship game for the first time since 2016.
But all things are fleeting.
How it happened
Las Cruces’ hands were tied, 53 seconds behind in the first half. Junior Cleveland quarterback Evan Wysong just showed his arm with a 70-yard touchdown bomb against senior wideout Ethan Duran to take a 35-7 lead and put the storm well over 300 yards offensive in the first half.
It wasn’t Cleveland’s longest game of the first half either.
The Storm scored a 14-0 in the first six minutes on a 74-yard touchdown from senior running back Lucious Dickson in the first game of their second drive. Then they used a 43-yard run to set up a four-yard Dickson touchdown run on the next drive. Las Cruces struck back with a 41-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Richie Madrid to put the Bulldawgs on the scoreboard, but it wasn’t enough to stay competitive for most of the half-time. At least until the last minute.
Las Cruces senior quarterback Dallas Boyd’s shaky throw somehow found second receiver Zakye Hawkins to get the Bulldawgs into the red zone for the first time with 40 seconds to go, and an end zone shot at Hawkins two games later gave Las Cruces his second touchdown of the night . But it was still 22 points behind, 23 seconds in the half.
So head coach Mark Lopez rolled up his sleeves and squirted a deep onside kick that Cleveland couldn’t take. Las Cruces recovered.
The Bulldawgs frantically pushed their way into the 20-yard line for the second time in 35 seconds, shooting their only field goal of the evening to reduce the lead to 35-16 at halftime.
Senior running back Elijah Ogas scored his only touchdown of the night in the third quarter, and Hawkins caught the Bulldawgs’ 2-point attempt to draw Las Cruces within 11 for the first time in minutes.
But it wasn’t enough for the 28-point comeback.
Another Cleveland touchdown put the Storm in the driver’s seat and an interception in the final two minutes put an end to Las Cruces’ comeback hopes.
Stephen Wagner is a sports reporter for Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be found on Twitter at @ stephenwag22 and can be reached at [email protected]