Stakes high in 61st Valencia Bowl

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The stakes will be high when the 61st Valencia Bowl between the Los Lunas Tigers and Belen Eagles, kicks off at Friday night at Willie Chavez Field in Los Lunas.

With LLHS at No. 2 and BHS at No. 3 in Class 4A in the MaxPreps poll at www.maxpreps.com, the game has double the marquee feel for state-wide observers.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: The BELEN EAGLES, shown here running onto the field for their homecoming game against Moriarty on Friday, Sept. 13, are looking to begin District 6-4A play with a win — and avenge their home loss to Los Lunas last season.

If that and the rivalry weren’t enough, the game is the District 6-4A opener for the teams, which are both 4-1 on the season.

A win for the Eagles on their heated rival’s home turf would give them the early district lead and advantage in playoff seeding.

A win for the Tigers would keep them on course for a return to the 4A state championship game.

“I expect it to be a well-played tough bout between two tough teams,” said Los Lunas coach Duane Toliver, who is coaching his first Valencia Bowl. “Rivalry games are rivalry games. Once the kick off happens, there’s a game to play.”

Belen coach John Lerma, who is coaching his sixth Valencia Bowl, said his team is as excited for the game as Toliver’s is.

“It’s an important game for both schools,” he said. “I expect that there’s going to be a lot of emotion in the game.”

Both teams used their bye week’s last week to work on fundamentals on the field. Toliver said he also worked on his team’s discipline after the Tigers showed several lapses against Albuquerque St. Pius X on Friday, Sept. 27

Toliver declined to get specific when discussing what he and his staff did to underline the need for disciplined play, but said the outcome from it was good.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: THE LOS LUNAS TIGERS, shown here entering the field during their homecoming game against St. Pius X on Friday, Sept. 27, won the 60th Valencia Bowl in Belen last season, beating the Eagles 40-0.

“I made sure my expectations were understood and they understood exactly what my expectations were and exactly what I expect of them,” Toliver said. “It was a good week.”

Los Lunas’ prolific senior running back Jalen Chavez will be sitting out this week due to being ejected from the St. Pius game. On Monday, Toliver was cagey about who would replace Chavez in the line-up.

“We’re just trying to get the next man ready,” he said. “We’re trying to get the guys to understand that it unfortunate but we can’t get down. The next man has to step up and get the job done.”

The key to the game will be which defense can slow down the other team’s offense. Lerma said his team would stick to its option attack.

Belen, on the other hand, must deal with Los Lunas’ spread offense that is equally good at running and passing.

“We’ve got to be really sound in the line and in our assignments and basically play fundamental football,” said Lerma.

Kick off Friday is 7 p.m.

The Jaguar’s three-game losing streak is a thing of the past as they look forward to the District 6-4A portion of their schedule and their ultimate goal — a return to the Class 4A playoffs.

Coach Kevin Jolley said the team’s bye week was “a well-needed break.”

“It was a nice break because we were able to work on things we’ll be able to use in the future,” he said.

Valencia (2-3) won against Moriarty and Rio Grande to start the season largely on the strength of their varied running attack. Jolley said the team worked toward that during its bye week last week in preparation for their game at 7 p.m. Friday at Gallup High (2-3)

“Basically what we did was work on the basics, made sure the kids knew where they were going and who they were blocking as well as looking at the tendencies that Gallup has to help us out on defense,” Jolley said.

For the Jags to end their three-game slide and claim a league win on the road, they’ll have to stop Gallup’s two big guns on offense — sophomore quarterback Colton Lowley and junior running back James Henry. Lowley comes into the game averaging just less than 200 yards of total offense per game as dual-threat to pass or run. James averages 62 yards a game rushing, but Jolley said the Bengals are a team that likes to pass first, run second.

“Their quarterback run and throws pretty well,” said Jolley, “We’ll have to figure out how to stop him. (James) is pretty talented. We’ll have to show up to play and be as prepped as we can”

The Jaguars will also have to deal with the Bengals 4-3 defense, which Jolley said is likely to stack as many as eight players at the line of scrimmage in an attempt to blunt the Jags running attack.

“In district play, every game is a must win,” Jolley said. “I think the kids will come out focused and pretty serious about what we need to do to make the playoffs.”