By Ed Nunez
It’s a rematch, but the third-seeded Los Lunas Tigers (9-2) will have a new look when they face the top-seeded Roswell Coyotes (10-2) on Saturday (Dec. 1) for the Class 5A state football championship.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Roswell’s Wool Bowl.
The Coyotes beat the Tigers 42-20 the teams’ Sept. 14 meeting when Los Lunas had the services of star senior quarterback Nick Gaerlan. But Gaerlan suffered a season-ending injury the following week.
The Tigers, however, have still been rolling in the playoffs with junior quarterback Cade Benavidez.
“It was hard to lose a player like a Nick Gaerlan, but the team is bigger than one player and the team has really rallied around Cade Benavidez,” said Los Lunas coach Jeremy Maupin. “The kids really bought into what we were doing as a coaching staff. Gaerlan’s best ability was to throw the ball, so we got creative and tried to spread the ball around.”
Maupin said he well remembers the team’s loss to Roswell this season.
“The game was tied at seven at the half, and we had fumbled at our own two yard line,” said Maupin. “(Roswell) came out in the third quarter and made some plays on us, and we just couldn’t keep up.”
Maupin said stopping those big plays, obviously, is a big key this time.
“Senior running back Justin Carrasco hadn’t played in the game before they played us, and we had not had a chance to see him. He is fast and a huge difference maker. Roswell has very good team speed. They will run that tunnel screen to (junior running back) Jasia Reese and you have to gang tackle him or he is off to the races,” Maupin said.
Maupin, a former Artesia assistant coach, knows the quest to get Los Lunas’ first blue trophy is not complete, and he went back to a story that his former mentor at Artesia (Cooper Henderson) relayed to him.
“Coach Henderson talked about a runner that had an 880 race to prepare for and he got distracted before he got to the finish line,” Maupin said. “It is one thing to get to the race, but we have to finish.”
Senior safety Michael (Mikey) Montoya, a key part of the Los Lunas defense, said “We are ready, we are a different team. We have that fire.”
Last week, Roswell head coach Jeff Lynn saw his Coyotes avenge an earlier defeat at the hands of Artesia. The Coyotes trailed 21-7 at the half, but beat the defending 5A champions 48-42.
“We told them to play the way we are capable of playing,” said Roswell coach Jeff Lynn. “We had played a bad first half. (We said), ‘Settle down, keep playing.’ ”
Lynn said the key to the Tigers’ success has been their health.
“They got healthy and Benavidez is more along the lines of an Artesia quarterback,” Lynn said. “Benavidez let them run more of what Maupin is used to as far as his offensive philosophy. We have to prevent the big play.”
The Tigers have good size in wide receiver Cody Vocu, a 6-foot-4 senior, and Lynn said “he is three inches taller than any of our corners. We have to try to keep things in front of us and win on third down.”
The Class 4A championship game matches the fifth-seeded Bloomfield Bobcats ( 9-4), coached by Bob Allcorn, at top-seeded Taos (11-1), coached by Art Abreu.
In 3A, the fifth-seeded Las Vegas Robertson Cardinals (11-2), coached by Leroy Gonzales, is at second-seeded Dexter (10-2), coached by Arturo Duran.
The Cardinals shocked top-ranked and previously undefeated Hope 25-17 in last week’s semifinals.
The Cardinals played in the 4A championship last year, winning a 57-54 thriller against Ruidoso.