Class 6A Football: With semifinal showdowns scheduled, higher seeded players should be nervous

Cleveland’s Josh Perry (23) is lifted into the air by teammate Andres Armijo (11) after scoring against Artesia in September. (Mike Sandova/For the Journal)

Robert Garza can easily quote the year and the team.

The year? 2014. The team? Cibola.

Regular season: Cleveland 43, Cibola 7.

First round of the playoffs, two weeks later: Cibola 42, Cleveland 28.

The moral?

“You’ve got to throw that first game out the window,” said Garza, a freshman head coach at Cleveland High — and a 2014 Storm assistant who watched the surprising events.

As the top-flight Class 6A (9-2) high school football team prepares for its state semifinal game against No. 5 Volcano Vista (10-2) at Nusenda Community Stadium on Friday night, Garza was eager to remind his team of The 56: 21 victory over the Hawks on Sept. 30 has no practical application as the District 1-6A rivals are dueling for a spot in the 6A Finals.

The Cibola situation eight years ago taught Garza a lesson and now he must instill the same sense of caution in his players.

“That’s all we’ve talked about all week,” he said.

Friday pairs up two of the state’s most elite offenses, those of Cleveland quarterbacks Evan Wysong (1,811 passing yards, 27 TDs; 861/9 rushing) and Volcano Vista’s Elliot Paskett-Bell (2,956/33 passing; 900/12 rushing ) be piloted ).

Wysong is one-third of a spectacular trio for Cleveland that includes senior running back Josh Perry (1,520 yards/22 TDs) and senior slot receiver Nic Trujillo (44 catches, 965 yards, 18 touchdowns). Trujillo and Wysong both verbally pledge themselves to the Lobos.

Paskett-Bell, whose freelancers are often a marvel, masterfully engineered a last-minute game win for Volcano Vista last week with his 35-31 first-round win at Hobbs No. 4.

“His pocket awareness is among the best I’ve seen,” Garza said of Paskett-Bell. “He knows where the pressure is coming from and where to escape.”

Hawks running back Alijah Gonzales didn’t play in the first game, but he will play Friday and he’s a valuable asset in the Volcano Vista backfield.

His counterpart, Perry, rushed to a season-high 250 yards on Sept. 30.

• The other 6A semi-finals will be No. 2 La Cueva (10-1) and No. 3 Centennial (9-1) at the Field of Dreams in Las Cruces at 1pm on Saturday.

In early September, La Cueva scored two touchdowns in the final 4.5 minutes, coming from behind and beating Centennial 28-21 at Wilson Stadium.

“We were disappointed with how we ended this game,” said Hawks coach Aaron Ocampo. “I felt like we made a lot of mistakes.”

It was Bears third running back Cam Dyer who ran 1.1 seconds past the game winner on a 1-yard run.

And therein lies one of the things to watch in Saturday’s rematch, as the two running backs ahead of Dyer who were injured that night, Gabriel Buie and Myuh Robertson, are both healthy. Buie didn’t play at all in the first game; Robertson was injured in the fourth quarter.

“It’s going to be a big difference for us,” said Bears coach Brandon Back. “These two guys bring such dynamic to our running game.”

In the first meeting, La Cueva’s offensive found success in the air but was limited to less than 100 rushing yards.

In contrast, Centennial had a robust evening on the floor with nearly 300 yards as a team and 190 from senior back Mikah Gutierrez. Centennial QB Daniel Hernandez also runs effectively behind a beefy offensive line, but Gutierrez (nearly 1,600 yards, 20 points) is the main carrier.

Back worries about how well Centennial does football, which is a big reason the first game scored relatively poorly.

“This time we have to do better,” said Back. “It’s been a problem for us all year. But defensively we’ve made some big progress in the past few weeks.”

Ocampo is also wary of La Cueva senior quarterback, UNM commit Aidan Armenta, who was thrown for nearly 3,300 yards and 40 touchdowns on a variety of pass targets led by Ian Sanchez (1,376 yards, 20 TDs).

“They’re very, very confident in their quarterback,” Ocampo said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he played for the Lobos next year.”

Back, like Cleveland’s Garza, knows full well that a mid-season rematch can create a completely different atmosphere on the field.

Take last year when the Bears were defeated 50-0 by Rio Rancho in the regular season, but teams played two overtimes in the state semifinals before the Rams advanced.

“The biggest difference,” Back said, “is that the two teams are so different.”

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