Eagles, Jags ready to rumble

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All three Valencia County football teams won their league games last weekend, setting up the end game in the chase for the District 6-4A title.

Friday night No. 2 Belen (7-1, 3-0) will host No. 9 Valencia (5-3, 3-0) with a District title on the line for both teams.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: JUNIOR MARCOS GRIEGO of Valencia High runs the ball deep in Jaguar territory during VHS’ 41-14 win over Grants Friday night.

A win gives the Eagles the championship outright. A win by the Jaguars sets up another must-win game next Friday night when VHS hosts in-town rivals Los Lunas.

Last Friday, Belen scored at will in beating Gallup Miyamura 61-19, while the Jaguars held visiting Grants scoreless for most of the final three quarters to take a 41-14 win and set up Friday’s quasi-district championship game.

Los Lunas (6-2, 2-1) had an even easier time Friday, dispatching Gallup 51-0 in a mercy-rule shortened game in Los Lunas.

The Jaguars had turnover troubles early on but scored 28 straight points to turn a 14-13 advantage by the Pirates into a resounding win Friday night in the News-Bulletin’s Game of the Week.

“That’s a good win, you bet,” said coach Kevin Jolley. “We’ve got a messy field and it got a little close there, closer than I wanted to. But the kids played hard and we’re always excited to get a win off Grants. They’re a dangerous team.”

Junior running backs Marcos Griego and Josh Burbank both scored three rushing touchdowns as the Valencia offense rolled to 499 yards. Burbank would finish the game with 202 yards on nine carries.

“Our (offensive line) is doing so much better now, they’re showing a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Griego, who finished with 104 yards on 11 carries. “They were opening holes for me left and right. They made it easy.”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: SENIOR RAYMIE BARELA (85) tackles Grants quarterback Cassius Corley during Valencia win over the Pirates Friday night. The Valencia defense shut Corley and the Pirates offense down in the second half of their 41-14 District 6-4A win.

Grants trailed 14-0 early on, but the Pirates’ senior quarterback Cassius Corley threw a pair of long touchdown passes at the end of the first quarter, and early in the second quarter, to help Grants commandeer a 14-13 lead.

But Valencia came back immediately as Burbank broke the game open on the next Jags’ possession, running away on a 65-yard touchdown run that gave VHA a 19-13 lead. After a Pirates punt, Burbank again capped a drive, scoring on a 2-yard run to make the score 27-14, in favor of VHS.

From there on the Jags defense pressured Corley, who finished the game with 6-of-17 passing with an interception for 141 yards, and waylaid the Pirates running attack to just 106 yards and 253 total yards for the game.

“We have a great defensive coordinator and we just execute, just 11 men to the ball,” said senior linebacker Estevan Gallegos. “Our offense really stepped it up tonight.”

Up 27-14 at halftime, the Jags scored twice in the third quarter, running at-will against the fading Grants defense, while the Valencia defense consistently corralled Corley, who was sacked twice and was hurried three times in the game.

Valencia now can play its way into a district championship in the next two weeks, beginning with Friday’s game at Belen. The Jags are tied with the Eagles atop District 6-4A with identical 3-0 records. VHS can win the title outright by wining its final two games against its Valencia County rivals.

“We’re coming together right at the right time,” said Jolley. “I think the kids believe they can beat anybody. So we’re excited about the next two games.”

The Eagles racked up 538 yards of total offense and senior Trenton Barba scored three rushing touchdowns and accounted for 224 yards on the ground, all by himself, as Belen pummeled the Patriots.

“We moved the ball well, scored on the first five possessions, then held the ball and put a lot of pressure on from the beginning,” said Eagles coach John Lerma. “We just played a good, all-around ball game. They (Miyamura) are a young team, they’re not as experienced as our ball club is, and it showed.”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA HIGH quarterback Garrett Gibson (9) goes to pass while being protected by junior Josh Burbank (8) and an unidentified Jaguar Friday night against district rival Grants.

Running back Manuel Romero and quarterback Chris Peralta, both juniors, were very productive as well. Romero carried the ball just three times but scored touchdowns on two of those carries. Peralta threw the ball just three times, completing all three passes – connecting with seniors Isaac Valdez and Tristan Baca for touchdown passes.

Belen scored 28 points alone in the first quarter and moved along from there, moving the ball relentlessly on Miyamura (1-8, 1-2), which has just one win on the season.

Senior Andrew Castillo scored one rushing touchdown and finished with 158 of all-purpose yardage yards. Junior Jonathan Barba also blocked a field goal in the win.

The Eagles now face a Valencia team that is on a three-game winning streak since beginning of district play and is as offensively explosive as any team Belen has faced this season, said Lerma.

“They have the most speed of any team in district, and they’re playing well, so it’ll be a challenge,” Lerma said. “They run the option as well as we do, they run counters… the big key will be to stop them from making big plays. We’ve got to make them earn their yardage.”

On offense, Belen will need to have its option running attack steadily gaining yardage and running the clock, said Lerma.

The coach stressed that his player won’t be looking at the Valencia game as a district championship game and they won’t be looking ahead to the playoffs.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: JUNIOR NATE NASH (22) of Valencia High runs through a pair of Grants defenders during Valencia’s 41-14 win over the Pirates Friday night at Valencia High School. The 3-0 Jaguars take on the 3-0 Belen Eagles Friday night in the Hub City with sole possession of first place in District 6-4A on the line.

“The only thing we’re thinking about is Valencia,” he said. “It’s a very big ball game and we’re focused on that. This is a another important district game that’s got our full attention.”

Like the Eagles, the Tigers had no problems with their opponents from Gallup (2-6, 0-3), scoring 42 first-half points on the way to a mercy-rule shortened 61-19 win.

The Tigers played without starting quarterback, sophomore Anthony Sanchez, who was lost for the season when he broke his left collar bone on the hard turf at Grants.

But the Tigers’ defense stepped up against the Bengals, snaring five interceptions and one fumble recovery.

Senior Jacob Holland caught two touchdown passes, had 100 yards receiving and returned an interception for another touchdown, while fellow senior Darron Gallegos stood in for Sanchez and threw for 83 yards and a touchdown on his way to 159 yards of total offense.

Gallegos also returned a fumble for a touchdown on defense .

Coach Duane Toliver said Gallegos is “a whole different player at quarterback for LLHS.

“We know how well he runs the ball. But one thing stood out is how well he throws the ball,” Toliver said. “He’s a smart kid who’s able to understand the offense.

“Having him in at quarterback doesn’t change anything. We still call the same plays and Darron does a good job executing the plays,” said Toliver.

Junior Ryan Kline also threw to Holland for a touchdown while kicker Dylan Kelly-Romero added six extra points and a third-quarter field goal.

The Tigers travel to Miyamura this weekend to take on the Patriots’ spread-offense. Toliver said his team needs to be wary of this road game.

“They have a bunch of seniors playing their last game at home and they’re going to come out with nothing to lose,” Toliver said. They’ll come after us to put dent in our season, so they’re as dangerous as anyone we’ve played this year.”