Kings of the Jungle Los Lunas 49, Valencia 21
Both Los Lunas and Belen were winners Friday night, the final night of regular season play.
But the Eagles took home the ultimate prize — a district title.
All three Valencia County teams finished the season with identical 4-1 district records, but Belen (8-2) claimed the title and an automatic bid to the post-season playoffs by having a better point differential between the top three teams.
Los Lunas (8-2) finished second while Valencia (6-4, 4-1) finished third in league play.
All three county teams were selected for the Class 4A State Football Playoffs, which begin Friday with first round games.
No. 7 Valencia (6-4) plays No. 10 Piedra Vista at Valencia High at 7 p.m. Friday. No. 3 Belen and No. 4 Los Lunas have the weekend off. Defending 4A champion Roswell Goddard (7-2) was seeded No. 1.
Before a standing-room only crowd at Jaguar Stadium in Tomé, the Tigers pounced on the Jaguars early to the roaring delight of LLHS fans before sauntering off with the two schools’ traveling “Pride of the Jungle” trophy at night’s end.
Senior Jalen Chavez accounted for the Tigers’ first three touchdowns as Los Lunas scored 35 unanswered points in the first half against Valencia.
Chavez, who finished with 108 yards on 16 carries, started the scoring with a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown. The senior followed that up with touchdowns runs of 18- and 26-yards to put the Tigers up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.
“They came out and played the way they practiced all week,” said LLHS coach Duane Toliver. “They were intense all week and it showed in that first half.
Senior quarterback Darron Gallegos, who finished with 353 yards of total offense, added a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter — one on the ground the other in the air to senior receiver Jacob Holland as Los Lunas ran out to a 35-0 halftime lead after taking advantage of an interception and a fumble in the opening quarter.
Valencia (6-4, 4-1) showed some life in the third quarter with a 22-yard touchdown run by junior Nate Nash to open the second half. But Gallegos’ second touchdown pass to Holland gave Los Lunas a 42-7 lead.
Valencia cut the lead to 42-21 with 6:12 left in the third quarter on a touchdown pass from junior Garrett Gibson to junior Tyler McClarran and an interception for a touchdown by senior Joe Heneghan ignited the Jags home crowd,
But Los Lunas sealed the win with Garcia’s third touchdown run and an interception by sophomore Thomas Volk in the fourth.
“We had some mistakes early and you can’t do that against a team like Los Lunas,” said Valencia coach Kevin Jolley.”
Los Lunas’ No. 4 seed is the Tigers’ second consecutive top-four playoff seed.
Eagle junior Manuel Romero ripped off 214 yards on the ground and scored two touchdowns to help lead Belen to a district championship-clinching win Friday night in Grants.
Senior running back Andrew Castillo added 81 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown while fellow senior Trenton Barba added a pair of touchdown runs and 51 yards on nine carries.
Coach John Lerma said his team notched its sixth district championship in eight years and also earned the coach his 200th career victory with the win, which also earned the Eagles the No. 3 bid in the Class 4A Playoffs.
“Grants started off fast but we were able to pull away later in the half,” said Lerma. “We ran the ball well and our line did a good job blocking. We were able to pull away because of that.”
Up 28-14 at halftime, the Eagles’ defense shut down the Pirates’ elusive senior quarterback Cassius Corley and out-scored Grants 19-8 in the second half to secure the win.
“Once we were able to settle down and start reading their offense and reacting better to the football, we were able to shut them down,” said Lerma.
Belen received a top-four seed and a bye into the quarterfinals for the fifth time in six years.
Lerma said the three top-8 post-season playoff seeds for showed that the county’s three football teams are getting the respect they deserve.
“I feel we’re in one of the toughest districts in the state in 4A,” he said. “So it’s great to see all three teams make the playoffs.”