LAS CRUCES – There was more at stake than just a trip to the state semifinals in the New Mexico Activities Association’s Class 6A high school football playoff quarterfinal game on Friday night between Centennial and Las Cruces high schools. The schools also wrote the final chapter in the thrilling novella of the Hawk-Bulldawg rivalry in 2021.
And Las Cruces had the last laugh in the 35-21 Bulldawg win on Friday.
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How it happened
Neither school needed extra motivation for Friday’s game after the dramatic end of their last meeting. Centennial made a miraculous comeback with 27 points to take control of District 3/4 in the final 21 minutes of their week 9 matchup, eventually earning a top 4 playoff seed and a first-round bye. Las Cruces finished second in the district after losing.
But the Bulldawgs were ready to deliver the first blow. And when Centennial struck back, Las Cruces didn’t flinch.
Las Cruces flew out of the gate with the same fire and intensity with which the Bulldawgs opened their last meeting. Senior quarterback Dallas Boyd beat Zakye Hawkins in the sophomore year wideout for a 7-yard touchdown on the bulldawgs first drive of the game, and the Las Cruces defense forced Centennial to poke on his first drive. Boyd then met Hawkins again and scored a 63-yard score in the third game of their next offensive streak to take the 14-0 lead midway through the opening period.
Centennial, who hadn’t played a game for three weeks thanks to consecutive weeks bye after securing a top 4 playoff spot, couldn’t find his rhythm. The Hawks hit the board with a 46-yard touchdown in the final 90 seconds of the first quarter but otherwise failed to overcome a number of early penalties.
The teams swapped touchdowns in the second period, and Centennial returned to the game for the fourth time with a 32-yard touchdown strike against Seth Chavez to reduce the lead to possession. Las Cruces absorbed the blow and returned the favor with an 85-second scoring drive to increase the lead to 28:14 at halftime.
But Centennial was determined to flip the script after halftime in the way they changed their fortunes when they first met.
The Hawks didn’t hesitate to get aggressive when they got the opportunity in the second half. Centennial scored a crucial fourth down-conversion on its first drive of the game within its own territory and scored a goal moments later to make it a one-possession game again, but it wouldn’t get any closer for the rest of the night.
Omar Chairez, Las Cruces’ 5-foot-4, 165-pound defensive tackle, tore the ball off a hawk carrier on Centennial’s next offensive possession and built a four-game bulldawg scoring drive. Senior running back Elijah Ogas then hit his second touchdown of the day and extended Las Cruces’ lead to 35:21.
And when Las Cruces Centennials stopped the first drive of the fourth quarter at the 10-yard line and forced a turnover on Downs, the Hawks’ fate was sealed. The Bulldawgs shut down the clock in the final third, and Centennial failed to cross the Las Cruces 30-yard line with two touchdowns on its hectic last-minute drive. Chairez once again helped seal the win by sacking Centennial senior quarterback Ian Lopez at the last minute with his own 45.
The stars of Friday
Boyd and Hawkins met for over 110 passing yards and two touchdowns, and a dive by Hawkins in the third quarter resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Ogas. Ogas also scored a 12-yard touchdown late in the first quarter in his 11-yard, 79-yard performance. And Chairez’s forced fumbling and firing helped ensure victory for the Bulldawgs.
Lopez linked up with senior receiver Isaiah Abeyta for two pass touchdowns and Chavez for a third. He also finished with over 100 passing yards.
What would be said
Las Cruces head coach Mark Lopez on the semi-finals: “It doesn’t matter if you win with half a point at this stage. It’s your ticket, it’s another week for these kids, and for that they have worked their way off. Now we earn” weeks together. We’re together in the penultimate week of the season. Now we have to try to make the most of this opportunity. “
Lopez on revenge on her 27-point comeback loss in week 9: “It probably made (the win) a lot sweeter, to be honest. That was a heartbreaker the first time (we played). Everyone’s heart was broken. Families, us, children and such a second chance like this one too You don’t get that often in the same season, a chance to redeem yourself. That these kids come back and have the heart to prepare like they did and come out and perform like they did I can’t say enough about them. “
Centennial head coach Aaron Ocampo on the Hawks season: “I thought we had an excellent season. I thought that at the beginning of the year there weren’t that many people who thought we would be that good. We lost a lot of people in the spring season. We had a really young team. Defensive we’d be giving up yards and points, but we have some college students and juniors out there. We have a freshman out there half the time. These kids are going to get better. I feel for the seniors that we’re not going to play next week because this is a good senior class and it’s fun to work out the group. It’s a hell of a lot of fun to work out. “
Las Cruces will face the winner of No. 1 Cleveland and No. 8 Hobbs in the state’s semi-finals next week.
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]