We know who’s dancing in November, so let’s breeze through a few things, shall we?
The high school state football brackets were announced Saturday night in all five 11-Man classes, with the largest four of them deciding titles on the Saturday following Thanksgiving.
The Class 6A playoff bracket has three distinct alphas — Cleveland, Centennial and La Cueva — who all believed they could have, or should have, been placed on the top line. From my keyboard, I’d say the way they were arranged by seed, with the Storm first, the Bears second and the Hawks third, was the correct order. I’d also say, any one of these three could win a state championship and it would not in any way be surprising.
As an aside, did Centennial pay a seeding price for only playing nine games? Could be it did.
The 6A bracket had what I would describe as four cliques. The top three, then the next group, which was the easiest to predict, with Hobbs, Volcano Vista and Rio Rancho.
The third clique was complicated to unscramble, since Cibola, Farmington, Los Lunas and Carlsbad were extraordinarily close in criteria. We ended up with Farmington at 7, then Cibola, Los Lunas and Carlsbad.
Alamogordo and Atrisco Heritage were the last teams into the field, and two-thirds of the final clique along with West Mesa.
On that note, a final word on West Mesa, which was the first 6A team left out:
I already was on record as saying I hoped the Mustangs would get into the field and that they were deserving of a slot. Plenty of 12 seeds in other years were far less accomplished and talented than this West Mesa group.
Some seasons, it can be a stretch to find 12 legitimate playoff teams. That was not the case in 2022.
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This year, there were 13 teams that had merit, but the math was always going to be unfriendly to one of them. West Mesa will rue two losses in particular: one against Cibola in which the Mustangs led by three touchdowns, and especially one against Atrisco Heritage. The Jaguars were the No. 12 seed this year, and they had to hold off the Mustangs inside the 10-yard line on the last play of the game to preserve a 59-54 victory in the middle of the season.
But this also demonstrated just how deep District 1-6A was, seeing as how all five teams had their playoff tickets punched, which is unusual. Two of those five — Atrisco Heritage and Cibola — enter the postseason on four-game losing streaks.
Fortunately for Cibola, the Cougars did enough while QB Aden Chavez was healthy to get a first-round home game.
And so now, Cibola faces a repeat match with Los Lunas at Nusenda Community Stadium, at 1 pm Saturday. Their first meeting, on Sept. 24 in Albuquerque, was one of the strangest games of the year. But, it also provided one of the great endings of the year, with Cibola scoring on a double pass with 14.9 seconds left for a 36-30 victory. The Tigers led that day 16-0 at halftime, and were still up 16 when the fourth quarter began. So Los Lunas gets its much-desired rematch.
There are other rematches that we’ve seen more recently, like Atrisco-Volcano Vista and, in 4A, Bernalillo and Albuquerque Academy. Volcano Vista battered the Jaguars 50-0 just a couple of days ago. The banged-up Chargers, with four touchdowns from Landen Martinez, beat the Spartans 27-24 at Bernalillo on Friday night. In over time.
This game will be at the Academy at 3 Friday afternoon, since the school has to get ready for state cross country on Saturday.
The 4A bracket also sets up a near-certain second pairing of Lovington and Portales. The Wildcats went on the road and beat the Rams 20-14 on Friday. If Portales beats 2-8 St Pius, the 12 seed in 4A, in the first round, then the Rams will visit Lovington in the quarterfinals. Juicy.
If we examine the no. 1 seeds among the five, 11-Man divisions, the one that clearly has gained the most separation between themselves and everyone else is Artesia in 5A. The relentless Bulldogs, who operate at an frantic pace, are, I would say, the biggest favorite to win a state title among those five No. 1s. That list also includes Cleveland, Silver in 4A, Socorro in 3A and Jal in 2A.
Jal’s Panthers and Socorro’s Warriors are the last of the undefeateds. The Panthers clearly are going to face a challenge from Texico and possibly also from a sleeper team in dangerous No. 3 seeds Santa Rosa; the Warriors face any number of land mines in 3A in November, including the other Warriors — No. 2 Ruidoso — plus St. Michael’s, Robertson and Raton.
The 4A bracket has excellent depth 1-5, and any of them could emerge holding a blue trophy come Nov 26.
Although the playoffs will go on without West Mesa, and without a sentimental favorite in Organ Mountain, they will move forward with the Gadsden Panthers. Gadsden languished for decades in the Las Cruces/Mayfield big-school district, never able to make any headway or noise. They went independent for a while, but returned to a district this year (in Class 5A, where they belonged) and they made it into the 5A field. They are a 10 seed, and will play at Los Alamos on Saturday.
For Gadsden, it is the school’s first playoff berth since 1972. It’s a terrific story, one I’ll expand on soon. In the meantime, this should be a fantastic November for us all.