Tigers, Eagles both set to host playoff games on Friday

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Both the Belen and Los Lunas high school football teams are set to host 7 p.m. state-quarterfinal games on Friday. However, Belen has slightly more firsthand knowledge of its opponent.

News-Bulletin file photo: Los Lunas running back Jalen Chavez is tripped up by Belen’s Nick Aragon in last month’s Valencia Bowl game. Both teams are top-four seeds who are set to host 7 p.m. state-quarterfinal games on Friday, with Los Lunas facing Piedra Vista and Deming coming to Belen.

Los Lunas is the No. 2 seed in the Class 4A playoffs, and will host No. 7 Piedra Vista. Belen, the No. 4 seed, will host Deming, the No. 5 seed — and Belen won at Deming, 14-7, in the season opener.

Piedra Vista easily beat No. 10 seed St. Pius, 49-3, in Farmington in last Friday’s first round. Deming hosted No. 12 Roswell, and won, 36-0.

Los Lunas (10-0) and Belen (8-2) wouldn’t meet unless both reach the 4A championship game. The winner of the Los Lunas-Piedra Vista game will face the winner of Saturday’s Aztec-Artesia game, and Belen or Deming gets either No. 1 Goddard or No. 8 Moriarty in the semifinals.

The semifinals will be played the weekend of Dec. 1, with the championship set for Dec. 7 or 8.

Piedra Vista (9-2) rushed for 289 yards and had 417 yards of total offense in Friday’s home win over St. Pius, which avenged a 30-28 October home loss to the Sartans. Friday’s win was the first playoff win for the Panthers since 2008.

“I thought PV looked really good,” said LLHS coach Jeremy Newton, who watched Friday’s game. “They’re athletic, they’re fast on the edges, and they have good size.”

Piedra Vista running back Bryson Martinez’s 202 rushing yards included a 96-yard touchdown run. Panther quarterback Isaiah Valdez was effective also, running for a touchdown.

“They run an option, and they run it really well,” said Newton. “And their quarterback throws well. It’s kind of like Valencia’s”

St. Pius, who the Tigers beat 41-6 in September, were held to 105 rushing yards by the Panther defense. Piedra Vista, which runs a 50-base defense, also returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown.

The Tigers, who won their first-ever district title this year, are hoping to get a large crowd to see what will be the third LLHS home playoff game in their three years since dropping down to 4A. Los Lunas is hoping to advance to the state semifinals for the first time in the program’s history.

LLHS lost 35-13 at Artesia in last year’s quarterfinals.

“We’re not thinking about all that stuff,” said Newton. “We’re just happy to go out and play. It’s nice to have an extra week to prepare (both the Tigers and Eagles had first-round byes), and we got to heal up some bumps and bruises.”

Belen has had more than bumps and bruises, and many of its injured players are done for the season. But coach John Lerma praised the hard work of the less-experienced Eagles who helped the team place second in District 6-4A.

“The kids that have stepped in, I’m real proud of them,” said Lerma. “We’ve been fortunately to avoid injuries on the offensive line.”

No. 5 seed Deming (9-2), the District 3-4A champion, has improved greatly since its season-opening home loss to the Eagles, Lerma said. The coach said the Wildcats have the third-best defense in Class 4A, behind Los Lunas and Goddard, and Deming’ s tailback, quarterback and receivers are all dangerous weapons.

“They’re about 75-25 in terms of run-pass percentage,” said Lerma. “And we’ll be playing on turf, but their speed is kind of an equalizer.”

The Eagles reached the semifinals in 2008, 2009 and 2010, reaching the 4A championship game in 2009. Having missed the playoffs last year, they’re making their fifth playoff appearance in six seasons.

The Eagles rolled to a 58-6 home quarterfinal win over Deming in 2009. The two teams were both members of District 3-4A from 2000 to 2004.

Lerma thanked the fans who have supported the Eagles, who have earned four first-round byes in their five seasons under his command.

“We’re happy to be playing at home, since we’ve been on the road so much this year,” said Lerma. “Our fans have been so supportive.”


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