GAME OF THE WEEK: Belen dominates Los Lunas in 61st Valencia Bowl
In the News-Bulletin Game of the Week, the Belen Eagles and Los Lunas Tigers faced off in the 61st Valencia Bowl and possession of the News-Bulletin Green Chile Roster traveling trophy before a standing-room only crowd at Los Lunas High School.
Valencia High traveled to Gallup where the Jags ended a three-game losing streak by beating Gallup High 28-13. Valencia moves to 3-3 on the season and now is tied with Belen and Gallup Miyamura at 1-0 in District 6-4A. Miyamura, which was winless until Friday night, beat Grants 17-7 in Gallup.
BELEN 32, LOS LUNAS 13: At a sold out Willie Chavez Field in Los Lunas, the No. 3 Eagles forced a pair of first quarter turnovers and ran out to a 20-0 first half lead on their way to stunning the No. 2 Tigers on their home field.
Senior tailback Andrew Castillo ran for a touchdown and threw another on a halfback option pass while senior backfield mate Trenton Barba, ran for two short yardage touchdowns to lead Belen (5-1, 1-0) to it’s first Valencia Bowl win since 2010.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Belen junior quarterback Chris Peralta, who carried the Chile Roaster trophy proudly after the win. “We’ve been missing it for two years. We had to get it back. We’re keeping it now. We’re not letting it go.”
The Eagles came out with energy, forcing a fumble on Los Lunas’ first play from scrimmage, then scored five plays later on a snaking run by Castillo to take a 7-0 lead.
Three plays later, with Los Lunas driving, Belen forced another turnover, as Castillo intercepted a pass from the Tigers’ Anthony Sanchez.
With the Tiger offense seeming to be out-of-sync, the Eagles forced LLHS to turn the ball over on downs then went to the air, moving the ball fluidly on their first possession of the second quarter as Peralta completed four consecutive passes before tossing the ball to Castillo, who threw a halfback option pass to a wide open Eliasib Baltierrez fora touchdown to give Belen a 13-0 lead and stunning the Los Lunas crowd into silence in the process.
After another Los Lunas punt, the Eagles again drove down the field, with Peralta again throwing a pair of key play action passes on a seven play, 65-yard drive that ended with a four yard touchdown run by senior running back by Barba to boost the Belen lead to 20-0, to the delight of their sizeable following.
The Tigers finally found their offensive rhythm on their final drive of the second quarter as Sanchez drove LLHS 53 yards in four plays, lazering in a 17-yard touchdown pass to high flying senior receiver Jacob Holland with four seconds left in the second quarter to pull the Tigers to within 20-6 at halftime.
Stopping Belen smoothly on the first two possessions of the second half, Los Lunas showed some life on its second possession of the second half, putting together a nine-play, 58-yard drive capped by a 1-yard run by Sanchez to cut the deficit to 20-13.
But Belen junior quarterback Chris Peralta ripped off a 50-yard run on the next play from scrimmage that led to Barba’s second touchdown run, a 1-yard plunge that gave Belen a 26-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
With the momentum back in their hands, the Eagle defense again clamped down on the Los Lunas offense, forcing a punt and three turnovers-on-downs – including a near blocked punt that gave Belen the ball at the 7-yard-line after the turnover on downs.
With the Tigers’ offense mostly neutralized, the Eagles were able to pad their lead with a pair of Tristan Baca field goals in the fourth quarter.
“We played a great game tonight,” said Belen coach John Lerma. “Our kids played hard, they played enthusiastically and they played with emotions. This was the best game we’ve played this year.
Lerma gave credit to Los Lunas’ effort, but said LLHS’ early mistakes helped his team, which was excelled on both sides of the ball.
“(The turnovers) stopped their momentum and we were able to get on the board early and kept putting pressure on them,” he said. “We were able to move the ball, we were able to throw the ball more effectively than we have all year. It was a great team win.”
LLHS coach Duane Toliver agreed that his team made several uncharacteristic mistakes Friday night.
“We weren’t clicking the way we play,” he said. “Belen had a lot to do with that, they’re a greatly coached team. We did some things that we haven’t done all year and it cost us.
“That’s what happens. You make mistakes against a good team and it’ll cost you.”
The Tigers played without senior running back Jalen Chavez and senior lineman Chris Romero. Both were sitting out due ejections during Los Lunas’ 55-27 win over Albuquerque St. Pius X in Los Lunas on Sept. 27.
BELEN WINS SPIRIT STICK: Eagle fans also won another memento Friday night, winning the KRQE/KASA Fox 2 “Spirit Stick.” According to Friday Night Football highlight show host Van Tate, Belen fans set a record with the most votes ever in the Spirit Stick competition. Eagle fans beat out fans from Los Lunas, Atrisco Hertage and Valley for the honor. Belen fans sent in 47,462 votes to www.KASA.com to outdistance Atrisco Heritage’s 30,941 votes. Los Lunas got just 6,470 votes in the poll, which allows fans to vote as many times as they like.