Senior running back Harris Mbueha (2) gains a few yards in the first half Saturday, and once again he eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark for the Storm, also scoring the team’s first TD in the loss to La Cueva. (Photo courtesy of JB Gallegos)

 

 

RIO RANCHO – Three long touchdown runs by visiting La Cueva and an inability to convert on third down left the No. 1 Cleveland Storm as Class 6A runner-ups at Lightning Bolt Stadium Saturday afternoon.

More than two inches of snow on the field from Friday’s night’s snowfall pushed the starting time back about 45 minutes, but the cold, wet turf and a temperature of 40 degrees at kickoff didn’t seem to bother Bears junior quarterback Cam Dyer, once a student in Rio Rancho Public Schools.

Cleveland scored on its second possession, a nine-play, 52-yard drive set up after Dyer and a teammate coughed up a handoff in the backfield.

Harris Mbueha scored on a 4-yard run and Miguel Quiñones booted the point after for a 7-0 lead.

The Bears (10-3) threatened to tie the game on their next possession, only to see Dyer fumble the ball away at the Storm 1.

The Storm went nowhere and punted, and the first quarter ended with Cleveland ahead, 7-0.

But that lead didn’t last long, as the Bears returned Stratton Shufelt’s punt to the CHS 27, and on the first play of the second period, Dyer handed the ball to diminutive Cheeto Lumbrera III (5-5, 152 pounds) and he went in from the 3 and the score was soon ties.

The Storm never led again, as the Bears (10-3) scored the next two TDs—on runs of 89 and 72 yards by Dyer in the second quarter.

Another Bears’ lost fumble, this trying to catch a Shufelt punt, led to what turned out to be the Storm’s final TD of the season, a 1-yard run by Marcus La Cuesta.

The Bears led at halftime, 21-14, and soon put the game out of reach.

La Cueva took the second-half kickoff and got the ball to the 34. A handoff on the first play from scrimmage saw Lumbrera race 66 yards to paydirt for a two-TD lead.

Storm fans, shivering in the west side grandstand, came to life on the next Storm drive, which encompassed 14 plays—mostly on runs by workhorse Mbueha – only to end on a fourth-down incompletion from sophomore QB Jordan Hatch.

Cleveland had the ball only two more times in the game: One that stretched from the third into the final quarter and ended with a punt, the other on another fourth-down incompletion.

Between those, the Bears scored again, this time on a 7-yard pass from Dyer to Nate Silvas.

The Storm were just 4 for 15 on third-down plays, and two of those conversions came on the drive that led to their first TD.

The Bears only had six third-down plays all game, converting four of them.

Mbueha had another great day, rushing for 120 yards on 28 carries, although he was overshadowed by Dyer’s 221 yards on 18 carries; “The Cheeto” ran for 95 yards on 14 carries.

Dyer was also perfect throwing the ball, 7 for 7 for 115 yards. Hatch was just 10 of 31 for 106 yards and was sacked three times.

“We shot ourselves in the foot,” CHS second-year coach Robert Garza said. “Actually, early in the game we got (their) turnovers and we just didn’t finish. We were up 7-0, they’re going in – we take the ball away from Dyer — we get the ball on the 2-yard line and our offense just didn’t get going.

“Give credit to them – they had a good plan.”

La Cueva, which lost the 2022 championship game on its home field, Wilson Stadium in Albuquerque, also beat the Storm at Lightning Bolt Stadium in the 2018 title tilt, 33-14.

This is the Storm’s first season with as many as four losses since 2014, when a 42-28 loss to visiting Cibola ended Cleveland’s season in a first-round upset.

The Storm (9-4) defeated La Cueva 27-7 at Lightning Bolt Stadium on Aug. 25 this season.