By Ed Nunez
For the second consecutive season, the district 5-5A championship comes down to Valencia County showdown between the Los Lunas Tigers and Belen Eagles.
On Saturday at 1 p.m., the sixth-ranked Eagles (6-3, 2-0) play host to the fourth-ranked Tigers (6-2, 2-0).
“It is always a tough game against Belen,” said Los Lunas coach Jeremy Maupin. “You can pretty much throw out the records.”
Last year, Belen won 35-34 with the help on a Los Lunas missed extra point. The Eagles ended up getting all the way to the 5A title game, where they lost to Artesia.
Senior running back Diego Casillas leads Belen, having rushed for 1,582 yards and 16 touchdowns. He averages 6.1 yards a carry. Junior quarterback Luke Aragon has thrown for 17 touchdowns and senior tight end/defensive end, Alexis Aguilar has 24 receptions for 588 yards and averages 23.3 yards a catch.
“Casillas is a monster back, I have nightmares about him,” said Maupin. “Bottling up Casillas may mean limiting him to 120 yards. We have to prevent him from breaking the big one.”
Casillas also plays inside linebacker for the Eagles on defense, so “we hope to wear him out a little bit there as well,” Maupin said. “Belen has done a good job of splitting Aguilar out wide, and he has taken advantage of it. He is a good player with good hands.”
Defensively, the Tiger front seven is stout and an important piece is sophomore defensive end Tyler Kiehne, who returns after a recent injury.
Offensively, the Tigers have soldiered on without Nick Gaerlan, arguably, the best quarterback in 5A. Gaerlan was lost for the season in a 38-35 win against Cibola in week 5.
“We challenged our receivers to make more plays,” Maupin said. “Junior quarterback Cade Benavidez is more of a pocket passer who will throw into tight windows.
“We have added more offensive packages to get senior running back, Hunter Williamson and senior running back, Noah Gum more touches.”
Elsewhere in 5A (games Friday at 7 p.m.): Top-ranked Roswell Goddard (8-0-1, 2-0 in District 4), which edged Artesia 31-28 last week, takes on third-ranked Roswell (7-2, 2-1). Second-ranked Artesia (5-4, 1-1) is at Alamogordo (1-8, 0-2).
Fifth-ranked Piedra Vista Panthers (6-3, 2-0) is at Farmington (5-4, 2-0) in a key District 1 game.
In District 3, seventh-ranked Deming (5-3-1, 2-0) plays Silver City (5-4-1, 1-1) — the No. 10 team in 4A — and eighth-ranked Santa Teresa (7-2, 1-1), which rebounded after back-to-back losses to beat Silver last week, plays Chaparral (1-8, 0-2).
Ninth-ranked Valencia Jaguars ( 6-3, 0-2) plays Valley (5-4, 0-2) in a District 5.
Ed Nunez is a play-by-play announcer for ProView Networks and a contributor to Enchantment Sports. If you have information, tips or questions for Ed, please send to EnchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.