Tigers wallop Panthers; are at Aztec for semis

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In all the years of Los Lunas High football, the Tigers have never been able to play for a state championship.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas junior Darron Gallegos trudges through tacklers in Friday’s Class 4A state quarterfinal win over Piedra Vista. The Tigers travel to Aztec for the 1 p.m. state semifinal on Saturday, hoping to advance to the championship round for the first time in team history.

If the undefeated Tigers can win the 1 p.m. Class 4A state semifinal on Saturday at Aztec, they’ll get that chance.

It would help if the Tigers (11-0) can keep the momentum going from last Friday’s 47-7 quarterfinal win over Piedra Vista. The mercy-rule win put the Tigers, the No. 2 seed in this year’s 4A bracket, into the semifinals for the first time.

“We just need to keep playing hard,” said Los Lunas coach Jeremy Newton. “We just took what they gave us, and followed the game plan.”

The Tigers hosted a No. 7-seeded Piedra Vista team that had easily beaten St. Pius in the first round, with a high-powered, high-scoring offense. However, the Tigers were quick off the ball on both sides in Friday’s game, and their defense took away nearly everything the Panthers (9-3) tried to do.

After Piedra Vista’s first drive fizzled, Los Lunas’ offense struggled slightly, but then got on track after a PV player muffed a fair catch on a punt, and the Tigers didn’t look back.

Jalen Chavez and Darron Gallegos scored on short runs to help give the Tigers a 13-0 lead by early in the second quarter.

Piedra Vista’s lone score came at the end of a long drive midway through the second period, aided by a long pass completion from Panther quarterback Isaiah Valdez to Bryson Martinez.

Valdez hooked up with Martinez for a 10-yard score on 3rd-and-goal to complete the scoring drive.

The Tigers scored twice in the final minutes of the half to go into the locker room with a 27-7 lead. Jacob Holland caught a pass from Chris Wisneski and forced his way to the goal line for a 9-yard touchdown with 2:15 left, and Chavez got his second TD on the 13-yard run to the left side with 38.6 seconds left in the half.

Los Lunas made some halftime adjustments, especially on defense, and came out even more fired up for the third quarter. The Tiger defense didn’t allow Valdez to complete any passes in the second half, and Los Lunas held PVHS to five first downs and 42 rushing yards in the contest.

The Tigers scored three times in the third quarter. Wisneski threw a 23-yard TD pass that Chris Sanchez leaped for and grabbed away from a defender. Chavez scored on a twisting, turning, weaving 27-yard run, and Wisneski dove in on a 1-yard quarterback sneak on 4th-and-goal.

Los Lunas’ second-string players also made some impressive plays after the running clock began due to the 35-point mercy rule.

Chavez rushed for 192 yards, while Gallegos added 119. Wisneski was 6-of-9 passing for 89 yards.

Los Lunas must travel because Aztec won a coin flip after beating Artesia on Saturday.

The higher seed hosts playoff games in the first two rounds, but in the semifinals and finals, the home field goes to the team that had to play on the road the last time the teams met in the playoffs.

Since Aztec and Los Lunas have never met in the playoffs, a coin flip was used, by rule.

Aztec, also called the Tigers, is only 7-4 on the year, but forged an impressive 61-55 overtime win at Artesia in Saturday’s quarterfinal game. As the No. 6 seed, Aztec has apparently improved a great deal, especially on offense, since Los Lunas won in Aztec, 50-28, in the season opener for both teams. The Aztec Tigers lost 63-0 at Goddard the following week.

The game will be played at Fred Cook Memorial Stadium, located at C.V. Koogler Middle School, 455 N. Light Plant Rd., in Aztec.

The Tigers hope to establish a running game against Aztec, but Newton’s team has adjusted frequently to defensive alignments, throwing often, when challenged to do so by its opponents.

Gallegos, the Tigers’ hard-running junior fullback, said LLHS’ confidence in its linemen is as high as it’s been all year.

“We trust our linemen,” said Gallegos. “As running backs, we just try to find linemen, and have them take us to the end zone.”


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