It was business as usual Saturday afternoon for the No. 1 Cleveland Storm, as their 35-14 victory over No. 2 Rio Rancho at Thunderbolt Stadium was not only their third victory over the Rams in 2021, but also the Storm’s 22nd victory in a row and 15th straight at home.
When the city’s two teams met Oct. 29 at Rio Rancho Stadium, the Rams (10-2) scored the first 20 points, only to lose, 28-27.
This time, in front on more than 6,800 fans on a 59-degree day, the Storm (13-0) scored the game’s first 21 points.
“We got tired of starting slow,” CHS coach Heath Ridenour said. “We wanted to comer out and leave no doubt — four quarters of Storm football proves, without a doubt, we’re the best football team in the state of New Mexico.”
Who’s to doubt it?
It’s the Storm’s second blue trophy in a row, having beaten the Rams in the 2019 contest, and without a title game in the truncated Spring 2021 four-game season. Cleveland also won championships with undefeated records of 13-0 in 2011 and 2015 to go with that 2019 crown.
Returning from a collarbone injury that sidelined him in the opening quarter of his team’s Stormcoming win over Atrisco Heritage Academy on Oct. 1, junior Josh Perry scored four touchdowns — on runs of 5 yards and 1 yard in the first period, on another 1-yarder in the third period and then a 58-yard gallop in the fourth quarter, the latter two being the only scores of the second half.
Storm QB Evan Wysong added a 3-yard run, which gave his team a 21-0 lead after he booted the PAT.
The Rams cut the deficit to 21-7 late in the first quarter on a 95-yard kickoff return by Devin Rice and sliced the lead to seven on a 10-yard pass to Rice from QB Dominick Priddy with 4:5 to go before intermission.
(Read more about the championship game, along with more photos, in the Dec. 5 edition of the Observer!)
Some tidbits for you to enjoy:
• Five of the last six Class 6A state championship games have taken place in Rio Rancho, excluding the 2020 campaign.
• Before a few weeks ago, the Storm’s longest winning streak had been 19 games, following their 13-0 championship season in ’15 by six wins in a row to start 2016 — a streak ended by the visiting Rams, 42-28, on Oct. 7, 2016.
• Prior to the battle for the blue trophy, the No. 1 Storm were averaging 51.4 points and giving up 16.6 points per game; the Rams were averaging 42.9 points and yielding 13.1 points per game.
• The Storm are perfect at the Field of Dreams, now 11-0 there after their convincing 42-24 semifinal win over Las Cruces on Nov. 19. The Storm have beaten Las Cruces at three different sites in 2021: at Cleveland, in Albuquerque and in Las Cruces.
“I didn’t realize that,” Storm head coach Heath Ridenour said.
• Lucky pennies? Ridenour said it’s a tradition for his defensive coordinator Eddie Kilmer to give him a penny and say “Good luck” before every game. Kilmer was in the pressbox in Las Cruces, after missing the game with Hobbs due to a leg infection, and being hospitalized.
• Speaking of traditions, the Storm practiced again Thanksgiving Day, which they’ve done every season they’ve been in the postseason, 2010-21… with no objections from parents.
• The way the city’s teams have been performed this fall, this could be another season for a local gridder to nab Gatorade Player of the Year honors in the state. If so, Cleveland QB Evan Wysong, a junior, and the Rams’ Zach Vigil, a senior, seem to have proven themselves to be worthy of that honor. It would give Rio Rancho four in a row: Dorian Lewis (CHS) in 2018, Isaiah Chavez (RRHS) in 2019 and Luke Wysong (CHS) this past season. Add in the 2015 (Gabe Ortega, CHS) and 2016 (Josh Foley, RRHS) winners and that’d be six of the last seven!
• Rams senior quarterback Dominick Priddy said in a postgame radio interview after the Nov. 19 win over La Cueva, “To be honest with you, I haven’t really played football a whole lot. I mean, this is my first year as a starting quarterback; it’s only my second season as a quarterback. I’m a baseball player — that’s where my heart’s at.”
Priddy was the back-up QB to starter Joey Cave in the Spring 2021 season; he was an All-State first-team catcher for the Rams’ baseball team last spring. There’s at least one former standout prep catcher having success playing pro football: Coincidentally, it’s the (Los Angeles) Rams’ quarterback, Matthew Stafford, once the batterymate for Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, when they were teammates at Highland High in Dallas.
• Saturday’s win by Cleveland moved Ridenour into second place on the New Mexico Activities Association website in terms of winning percentage for a football coach, with a minimum of five seasons. The leader is Bernie Laabs (.850; 63-11-1 record at Carrizozo High from 1959-66). A win would have Ridenour ahead of second-place coach Brad Hirsch (.8416; 85-16 at Aztec High, 2004-11), with Ridenour upping his winning percentage to .8421, with a 96-18 mark with the Storm.
The Cleveland Storm show off their fourth state championship banner, won Saturday after their 35-14 victory over Rio Rancho. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer)