Tigers to play for state championship

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There have been a lot of important games played at Los Lunas High School through the years. None of those games had as much at stake as the one to be played at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 7.

When the host Los Lunas Tigers and the Goddard Rockets take to the turf at Willie Chavez Field on Friday, the teams will be competing for the Class 4A state championship trophy.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas High School football players pour onto the field before Saturday’s state semifinal football game at Aztec. The Tigers won the game, 24-20, and will play in their first state championship game in team history when they host Goddard at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 7. For more game coverage, go to Page 9A.

The Tigers had never even been to semifinals before Saturday’s dramatic 24-20 win at Aztec, and now they have the chance to become the first high school team from Valencia County to win a state championship in football.

“A state championship trophy would mean everything — to our school, to our village and to our families,” said Los Lunas senior Preston Schollander, a tight end and defensive end. “We’ve been looking forward to this since YAFL.”

The Tigers are 12-0, making this their most successful season in their 60-year history.

Thousands of Tiger fans made the trip to Fred Cook Memorial Stadium in Aztec on Saturday for the semifinals, where the game came down to the final play — an incomplete pass by Aztec in the end zone.

Los Lunas fans might have outnumbered Aztec’s followers at the semifinal game. Many fans brought along the “Go Tigers” News-Bulletin banner that was inserted into the Nov. 21 issue.

“This is a team with great leadership,” said Los Lunas coach Jeremy Newton after the big win in front of the huge crowd. “And we needed it. Aztec really brought it today.”

The No. 2-seeded-Tigers will host No. 1 Goddard, as determined by a coin flip, in Friday’s championship.

The crowd is expected to be huge, even with Sandia hosting Las Cruces High School in Albuquerque in the 5A championship at the same time.

Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens. The gate windows at Willie Chavez Field will be cash-only, and no passes are accepted. Tickets can be purchased online at www.nmaa.ticketleap.com.

Fans are encouraged to arrive early, especially if buying tickets on site, as parking might be time-consuming.

Los Lunas Schools is encouraging all area businesses to decorate storefronts in blue and orange, along with a positive message, in support of the Tigers.

The Tigers reached the second round of the playoffs last year, losing to Artesia. They went 10-1 in 1992, the only year they’d won a district championship before 2012.

Los Lunas lost 44-10 in the 1992 playoffs to Clovis, which got strong offensive performances from future coaches Chad Roanhaus and Doug Cavanaugh in the contest.

Los Lunas is in the playoffs for the third straight year, having lost to Belen and Artesia on the road in the quarterfinals in the past two seasons.

The location of Friday’s game was determined by a coin flip because Los Lunas and Goddard have never met in the playoffs before.

The trip to Aztec was also determined by a coin flip, but when those two matchups next occur in the playoffs, the opposite team would have to travel.

The Tigers nearly ended up hosting county rival Belen in the championship, but the Eagles lost to Goddard in Roswell on Friday in the other semifinal, 35-7. The only other state title game played on county soil was when Goddard won at Belen, 28-21, in 2009.

Goddard, which lost last year’s championship game, 28-27, to Aztec, has won seven state titles and has played in 14 state title games.


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