Tigers shut out Jags; get No. 2 seed

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Even though the Los Lunas Tigers and Valencia Jaguars were both at Willie Chavez Field on Friday, it almost didn’t seem like they were playing each other.

The Tigers, who ended up shut out the Jaguars, 46-0, were playing for an undefeated regular season, their first district championship in 20 years, and a first-round playoff bye.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas senior Preston Schollander leaps in front of Valencia quarterback D.J. Heybourne in Friday’s regular-season finale at Willie Chavez Field, as Chris Waltman blocks. The Tigers shut out Valencia, 46-0, to end the Jaguars’ season. Los Lunas earned a No. 2 seed in the Class 4A playoffs and will host the Piedra Vista-St. Pius winner on Nov. 23 or 24.

The Jaguars, who had slim playoff hopes if they could have pulled off the upset, were playing for pride, and trying to outrun the demons of inexperience and a roller-coaster season.

“We talked about (winning district) as one of our goals,” said LLHS coach Jeremy Newton. “We’re senior-led, but this is a collective effort. Guys have done a good job keeping their heads on straight, and staying humble.”

The Tigers clinched their first district title since 1992 with the same formula that has worked all year: a stifling, alert defense that fights off blocks, and one of the most explosive offenses in the state. Los Lunas completed the regular season 10-0, including a 5-0 mark in District 6-4A, while Valencia finishes 3-7, 3-2.

LLHS received the No. 2 seed in the Class 4A playoffs from the seeding committee, which made Goddard No. 1. The Tigers will play at home Friday or Saturday, Nov. 23 or 24, against the winner of Friday’s first-round game between No. 10 St. Pius and No. 7 Piedra Vista in Farmington.

Belen placed second in District 6-4A, earning the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye. The Eagles will host either Deming or Roswell High in the second round.

The Tigers, who lost to a veteran Jaguar team 13-7 at VHS last year, dominated Friday’s game. The Tigers rushed for 327 yards and held the Jaguars to 56 yards of total offense.

Tiger tailback Jalen Chavez rushed for 193 yards on only nine carries, including an electrifying 88-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He really ran about 140 yards on the play, as he switched his field.

Quarterback Chris Wisneski threw touchdown passes to Ruger Rodriguez, Isaac Parra and Chris Sanchez, and Darron Gallegos and Sasha Gallegos had rushing touchdowns.

Los Lunas, which led 33-0 at the half, held Valencia to 33 rushing yards and only three first downs in the contest, which had a running clock through much of the second half per a mercy rule.

The Tigers also had zero turnovers to the Jaguars’ five.

VHS coach Kevin Jolley said even in the humbling loss to the closest rival, he saw some bright spots. The Jaguar defense gave up a big play on the Tigers’ first drive, but then stopped Los Lunas on downs inside the Valencia 15-yard line.

“We’re young, but look at how the defensive line played on that first series,” said Jolley, the Jags’ first-year coach. “That was a huge victory against a team like Los Lunas. But we didn’t move the ball that well tonight.”

Jolley has tried several players at quarterback this season. Joe Heneghan started Friday’s game, with D.J. Heybourne coming in later. Both are juniors.

Heneghan threw one pass, which was incomplete, and had two carries for seven yards. Heybourne had 14 rushing yards and completed 3-of-7 passes with two interceptions. Jaguar tailback Josh Burbank had five carries for two yards.

“We’ll hit the weight room, and we’ll get stronger and faster,” said Jolley. “Our junior varsity did well this year. We expect a big future.”

The Tigers’ next opponent will be either Piedra Vista, the District 1-4A champion, or the St. Pius team they beat 41-7 in September in Albuquerque. Piedra Vista lost to St. Pius at home in October; PV’s signature win is probably its emotional 24-21 win over local rival Aztec on Nov. 2.

If the Tigers are to go deeper in the playoffs than their quarterfinal runs in 2010 and 2011, many LLHS units need to continue their high level of play. One of those units is the offensive line.

“We know that if we don’t block well, we can’t do anything,” said Dakota Wood, the Tigers’ starting center. “A lineman has to be physical, and be nasty. The bye week will give us extra time to prepare. We’re clicking better as an offensive unit than ever before. We even practice better.”


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.