Preview of the 6A soccer semifinals: La Cueva and Las Cruces want to prove that they can play with the powers that be
La Cueva and Las Cruces stand between yet another state finale involving Cleveland and Rio Rancho, and the Bears and Bulldawgs have a lot to say.
The Storm and Rams, the state’s second best teams for virtually the entire season, make it into the state’s Class 6A semifinals on Friday night as prohibitive favorites to advance to their second championship game in three seasons.
No. 1 Cleveland (11-0) is in 5th place Las Cruces (8-4) and No. 3 La Cueva (10-1) visits No. 2 Rio Rancho (8-1) in the semifinals on Friday at 7pm.
LA CUEVA-RIO RANCHO: One of the joyful secrets of this weekend is waiting to hear how the bears will take on the Aries at full strength. La Cueva was decimated by injury in their first encounter, a 50-0 loss to Rio Rancho on August 27.
“It’s going to be a much closer game,” said Gerry Pannoni, Rio Rancho coach.
No fewer than five recipients, including the fantastic Exodus Ayers, either completely or substantially missed the first Rio Rancho game in August. That was by far not the only problem with La Cueva, but it was the most prominent one on an evening when the Rams were clearly superior in every way.
“We saw this movie many times,” said La Cueva coach Brandon Back. “We were coached and played over. No escape from this excuse. We felt that we took this loss into our own hands. “
This matchup highlights two of New Mexico’s most elite offensive talents: Ayers, who caught four touchdown passes in the quarterfinal win against Volcano Vista, and Rio Rancho, who brought back Zach Vigil, who is widely considered to be the best in the state in his position. Vigil, who scored five TDs against Cibola last week, recently signed up to the UNM.
“A ridiculously strong running back,” said Back. “He’s built differently, he walks differently and his back is very supple. Will be a great challenge for our defense. “
Pannoni said the Rams must keep the explosive Ayers under coverage on Friday. He has 15 TD receptions and averages over 20 yards per catch.
“We can have a drink and dive in. We can’t take a big game, ”he said. “I think we did that defensively all year.”
La Cueva also has to run the ball better than it did 2½ months ago when it only gained 59 yards. Junior Gabriel Buie stormed Volcano Vista 200 yards last week.
Meanwhile, the bears – especially their defenses – hope to change the narrative after Rio Rancho shredded them in the first meeting.
“We know we got our butts kicked that night,” said La Cueva quarterback Aidan Armenta, who has thrown 26 touchdowns and more than 2,500 yards. He overcame three interceptions in the first half against Volcano Vista and led the Bears in the second half.
“You’d better be ready now because we’re coming and we’re not going to blink at all.”
CLEVELAND-LAS CRUCES: The top seeded Storm (11: 0) is making his second trip to the Field of Dreams this season. Cleveland beat Las Cruces 42-7 at Rio Rancho on September 10, despite running back Josh Perry who had four touchdowns that night who missed most of the season with an injury.
“The fight is against complacency,” said Storm coach Heath Ridenour. “They assume that what happened last time will happen again, and that is completely wrong. We see them as a completely different team. “
Junior quarterback Evan Wysong and running back Lucious Dickson have prevailed in the Storm’s two most recent wins. Dickson ran wild against Rio Rancho in the second half to end the regular season, and Wysong won 151 rush yards against Hobbs in a 42-14 first-round playoff win last week.
“When the ball is in his hands,” said Las Cruces coach Mark Lopez of Wysong, “sometimes it doesn’t matter. He creates a lot out of nowhere.”
Wysong has thrown 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns, and he has run another 820 yards and 12 scores.
The Las Cruces defense, Lopez said, has things to ramp up on Friday.
“We weren’t healthy at all,” he said of the first meeting in the fall.
The Las Cruces offensive is being driven by Senior QB Dallas Boyd, who has approximately 2,500 all-purpose yards. The Bulldawgs ‘other top guns include Eli Ogas’ running back and second receiver Zayke Hopkins.