The state high school football championship games in grades 5A, 4A, and 3A this year have an authentic trail between North and South.
Artesia, Silver and Ruidoso go on long trips and Saturday title matches in Farmington, Bloomfield and Santa Fe.
Preview (The Journal will review the 6A title game on Saturday):
WHO: No. 1 seed Artesia (10-2) and No. 3 seed Piedra Vista (11-1)
WHEN: 13:00 Saturday
WHERE: Hutchison Stadium, Farmington
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Artesia – Nye Estrada Jr., QB; Peyton Greathouse Jr., WR; Jesse Leroch Jr., RB. Piedra Vista – Jacob Ramstead Sr., RB; Zach Mora-Dotson Sr., RB; Logan Howell Sr. QB.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Panthers have already beaten three other members of Artesia County (Goddard, Mayfield, Roswell), but now they are fighting the best of that league as Piedra Vista tries to win its first football championship.
The Panthers would certainly benefit from a low-scoring game like the one at the Wool Bowl (13-7) in Roswell last week. Artesia scored at least 30 points in every game and her only losses came to 6A Powers Hobbs and Cleveland.
With Artesia chasing the No. 31 title, it’s important to note that the Bulldogs’ top three offensive guns – Bandstand, Greathouse, and Leroch – are still juniors. Estrada threw for 3,100 yards and threw for 39 touchdowns. Greathouse has 11 TDs and averages nearly 17 yards per tackle. and Lerokh scored 10 points, and all this in an attack that moves at breakneck speed.
Piedra Vista will try to set an early, physical tone, control the ball, move the chains and try to limit Artesia’s attacking touches.
The Panthers have not played in a football championship for 22 years.
“We probably would have played a couple more if it wasn’t for Artesia,” PV coach Jared Howell said with a laugh. Another irony: Hutchison Stadium is on the campus of the Panthers’ rival, Farmington High.
The Bulldogs and coach Jeremy Maupin finished second in the 5A rating last year behind Los Lunas.
WHO: No. 1 seed Silver (11-1) and No. 2 seed Bloomfield (11-1)
WHEN: 13:00 Saturday
WHERE: Bobcat Stadium, Bloomfield
ALREADY IN THIS SEASON: Silver beat Bloomfield 45-6 on October 7 in Socorro.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Silver – Aidan Granado Sr., RB-LB; Mason Lockett, Sr. RB-LB; Matt Harrison Sr., LB. Bloomfield – Ryan Sharp Sr., QB Drew Perez Jr., WR; Jesse Seitzinger Jr., RB.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Colts could end one of their best defensive seasons on Saturday; they lost only 55 points in 12 games; even their one loss was just a 7-0 loss to 5A semi-finalist Deming. “Honestly,” said Colts coach Jerome Ortiz, “we should have won this game.”
Silver’s defense is built around his D-line, as well as an outstanding group of linemen led by Garrison, the team’s lead invader, and Lockett, who take center stage.
The Bobcats, according to coach Mike Kovacs, need to keep senior quarterback Sharpe upright long enough to pass the ball to a solid receiver group, and Bloomfield is also hoping their newly improved ground game will add decisive balance. Kovacs said Bloomfield should do better than when they first met Silver.
Colts coach Ortiz wants to join a small club of people who have won state titles as a player and coach at the same school. He was a member of Silver’s 2005 championship team. It was the school’s last blue football trophy. Bloomfield is in the state finals for the third time in four years, but the Bobcats haven’t won it all since 1966.
WHO: No. 2 seed Ruidoso (11-1) and No. 4 seed St. Michaels (11-1)
WHEN: 13:00 Saturday
WHERE: Ivan Head Stadium at Santa Fe High School
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Ruidoso – Kaden Sago Sr., RB; Cooper Pritchett Sr, QB; Dalton Trapp Sr., TE/DL. St. Michaels – Zach Martinez Sr., QB; Creed Chavez Sr., WR; Markus Leiba Sr., RB; Taven Lozada, Sr., TE.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The impending winter storm hitting southeastern New Mexico is already a factor; The Warriors were going to head to Santa Fe on Saturday morning, but Ruidoso was forced to leave on Friday, just in case.
Sago is a seasoned defender (1,670 yards, 24 touchdowns), though the Riders have experience in that sort of thing as they have already faced Raton’s standout RB Cayden Walton. St. Mike is probably throwing a little more than Ruidoso, with Chavez usually the top, dangerous target with amazing run potential after the catch. That Horsemen defense just limited the powerful No. 1 seed Socorro to six points in last week’s semi-finals, so Ruidoso’s offense is sure to be put to the test on Saturday.
Both quarterbacks (Pritchett and Martinez) have important playoff experience and led their teams to a semi-final victory a week ago.
A couple of veteran teams in this game and two head coaches (Joey Fernandez of the Horsemen and Keefe Johnson of the Warriors) who already have state titles. And both of these teams finished second in the state last November – Ruidoso lost to Lovington in the 4A final, St. Michaels lost to Robertson in the 3A final.
The last time St. Mike won a state was in 2012, it was also at Ivan Head Stadium (against Silver), just like in Saturday’s final. Ruidoso, whose only failure this season was at 4A Portales, last won the state in 2017.