Tigers one win away from their first state championship

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When Aztec quarterback Adam Lucero launched the final pass of Saturday’s game, it seemed to hang in the air forever.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas linebacker Isaac Parra, left, pressures Aztec quarterback Adam Lucero in Saturday’s 24-20 state semifinal win over Aztec. The Tigers will play in their first state championship game in team history when they host Goddard at 7 p.m. on Friday.

When the pass finally landed incomplete beyond the south end zone of Fred Cook Memorial Stadium, Los Lunas had won the Class 4A state semifinal, 24-20 — and was headed to the Class 4A state championship game for the first time in team history.

Saturday’s emotional win featured many shifts in momentum. It was the first time Los Lunas had ever played in the state semifinal in its 60-plus years of history, but Aztec, the defending 4A champion, had been there many times.

No. 2-seeded-Los Lunas will host No. 1 Goddard, as determined by a coin flip, at 7 p.m. on Friday.

The win over Aztec took nearly everything the Tigers had, emotionally and physically. An even greater effort will probably be needed to beat Goddard, which beat Belen 35-7 last Friday in the other 4A semifinal.

“Their quarterback (Aztec’s Adam Lucero) is so mobile,” said Los Lunas senior Preston Schollander. “And we’ve seen Goddard on film. Both of their quarterbacks are really good. We’ve got to make some plays against them right away, and we’ve got to move the ball better.”

Los Lunas led 18-0 at halftime of Saturday’s semifinal, then held off on furious efforts by Aztec, also called the Tigers, to deny 2011 state champ Aztec what would have been its third straight appearance in the 4A title game.

Los Lunas had more success running the ball, for the most part, and especially in the first half. The visiting Tigers started an eight-play, 95-yard drive late in the scoreless first quarter, with Chris Wisneski throwing a 21-yard, jump-ball touchdown pass to Chris Sanchez on the first play of the second period.

A pass fell incomplete on the conversion attempt. In fact, Los Lunas went for two points after all four touchdowns, and didn’t convert on any.

Los Lunas got two more touchdowns in the second quarter: a 69-yard scamper by Jalen Chavez, and a 5-yard run by Darron Gallegos. The Gallegos score was set up by an Eddie Canizo interception; the speedy Los Lunas secondary picked off Aztec quarterback Lucero three times Saturday.

Aztec came out stronger in the second half, gaining both momentum and the lead. Lucero scrambled and found Brad Hardin wide open in the end zone for a 49-yard score. Later in the quarter, Lucero threw to Cody Rinerson, who broke a tackle and scored from 16 yards out.

The host Tigers took their only lead of the game with eight minutes to play in the game, with Lucero passing to a wide-open Hardin for a 32-yard score. The extra-point kick went wide left, and Aztec was up 20-18.

Los Lunas then mounted its gutsiest drive of the game, going 67 yards and getting a 2-yard dive from Gallegos for the go-ahead score.

The next drive ended with a Lucero pass being tipped and intercepted by Jacob Holland of Los Lunas. The visiting Tigers were forced to punt, and Lucero drove the hosts from their own 10 to the Los Lunas 32, but his final pass sailed beyond the end zone as time expired.

Chavez rushed for 185 yards for LLHS, which had 257 yards on the ground as a team. Wisneski was 9-of-18 for 151 yards with one touchdown, though Aztec intercepted him twice.

“This is a team with great leadership,” said Los Lunas coach Jeremy Newton. “And we needed it. Aztec really brought it today.”

Lucero was 20-of-47 for 242 yards with three TDs and three picks in his final game for Aztec, which reached the semifinals with an impressive road overtime at Artesia last weekend.

Los Lunas had to travel to Aztec for the semifinals based on a coin flip, as the two teams had no playoff history of playing each other. Newton said the coin flip for the LLHS-Goddard matchup was held Saturday, Nov. 24, in Roswell.

“We’ll have to have everything screwed on straight to play Goddard,” said Newton of the 11-0 Rockets. “They’re such a great team.”


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