They’d been here before, Cleveland High football coach Heath Ridenour told his team at halftime of the annual City of Vision Championship Game at Rio Rancho Stadium, played on a cool Friday evening with a negligible wind in front of an estimated 6,300 fans.
And Ridenour was right, as a 24-yard field goal attempt by Rio Rancho’s Bailey Siverts sailed wide right, and Cleveland escaped with a 28-27 victory, their 19th in a row — and the sixth time in a row they’ve beaten the Rams.
Don’t think it was easy.
The Rams led, 20-0, at intermission. The Storm had come up short on three fourth-down plays inside the red zone, failed each time, and the No. 2 Rams (7-1, 3-1 in District 1-6A) responded with long scoring drives: 81 yards on two plays, 89 yards on 13 plays and 98 yards on three (!) plays.
But only 15 days earlier, the No. 1 Storm (10-0, 5-0) had an early 20-0 deficit against Volcano Vista at Community Stadium and rallied for a 44-33 victory.
Of course, the Storm would have to stop Rams senior running back Zach Vigil, who amassed 184 rushing yards and TD runs of 59 and 12 yards in the first half, with another senior, quarterback Dominick Priddy, capping the second score of the game on a 6-yard run.
Beginning the impressive comeback, the Storm took the second-half kickoff and drove 60 yards on seven plays, with Lucious Dickson hitting paydirt from the 2.
A mere 52 seconds later, Vigil was in the end zone on a 58-yard gallop — can’t anyone tackle No. 21? — and it was still a 20-point Rams advantage, 27-7.
But that ended the home team’s scoring.
Dickson scored on a 3-yard run with 5:10 left in the third period, which ended with the Storm trailing by two scores, 27-14.
The Rams opted for a field-goal try on their next possession, a 30-yard miss by Siverts.
Each team then went three and out; the Storm’s next drive gobbled up a lot of time, traveling 97 yards after a great punt by Priddy, in 15 plays, with Dickson scoring from a yard out. Evan Wysong’s third of four points-after made it 27-21.
The Cleveland defense stymied the next Rams drive, and Priddy’s punt had the Storm on their own 27.
No problem, thanks to a Rams 15-yard penalty for pass interference that had the students in the west-side bleachers very unhappy. The Storm went to Dickson, who ran right for 8 yards on a second-down play to get the ball to the Rams 45 … and he sprinted down the east sideline on the next play for a 45-yard TD.
Wysong’s PAT made it 28-27, setting up the final drive of the game — and the nail-biting miss by Siverts, another senior.
“I’m sure I was really close (to going out of bounds),” Dickson said of his fourth TD of the game, which left a mere 1:24 on the game clock. He wound up with 138 yards on 26 yards for the game.
“With the weight on my shoulders I fully expected it — I’m a senior this year and I had to help my team get the W,” he said. “There’s no way we should have three times in the red zone (and not get a point).”
Ridenour, of course, was also disappointed with that.
“We’re inside the 10 three times — and we don’t get any points out of it, which is not very common for us,” he said.
“So the game plan’s right: our defensive game plan’s right, our offensive game plan’s right, we’re just not finishing.
“We need to tackle better; we need to finish blocks; we need to finish drives,” he continued. “One drive at a time, just be resilient, be who you are. Trust your process … you’ve been through the wringer. You know what it’s like to be put in tough-tough-tough situations.”
Vigil, still looking fresh after his night of 320 rushing yards and three TDs on his 21 totes of the ball — his eyeblack barely running — said he was disappointed the Rams couldn’t pull off the win and take the district title for the first time since 2016.
“It’s very heart-breaking and frustrating that we went all this way and came up short,” he said. “We’ve got to learn from it and just move on — the season’s not over yet.”
Over the weekend, Cleveland got the 1 seed for the 12-team state playoffs; the Rams got the 2. Both have this weekend off with the first-round byes, along with No. 3 La Cueva and No. 4 Centennial.