Evan Wysong, the District 1-6A Player of the Year, runs for a touchdown against the Bears Saturday afternoon. (Herron photo)
ALBUQUERQUE – It’s long been thought that defense wins championships.
That wasn’t the case Saturday at jam-packed Wilson Stadium, where it seems neither team played defense in what looked like the final score of a basketball game: Cleveland 75, La Cueva 61.
It was the same place the NO. 1 Storm won their first game of the season, also at the expense of the Bears — 33-28 on Aug. 26, exactly three months earlier.
The three-peating Storm (11-2) played enough defense to turn two both Bears (11-2, with both losses to Cleveland) fumbles into touchdowns and CHS’s Andres Aguirre had two pick-sixes, making No. 2 La Cueva pay heavily for the game’s only turnovers.
Early in the game, played on a sunny late-fall afternoon, several people could be heard saying, “First one to 50 wins the game.”
That’s how it turned out, but when the Storm hit 50, there was still 11:49 of the fourth quarter to play.
The 75 points scored by the Storm, who have won 33 of their last 35 games, were the most they’ve scored in a game; the 61 they gave up was also an all-time high. Cleveland is now 5-4 all-time vs. La Cueva, which beat the host Storm 33-14 in the 2018 championship game.
Here’s how it played out:.
Cleveland junior Harris Mbueha, a guy who didn’t play football until he was in eighth grade at Rio Rancho Middle School, got the scoring underway on a 35-yard touchdown reception from Evan Wysong.
Wysong scored his first of three TDs on a 59-yard run and Mbueha closed out the five-TD opening quarter, which ended with the Storm ahead, 21-14, with a 21-yard run.
The second quarter ended right after a 56-second stretch that first-year Storm head coach Robert Garza termed “a 21-point swing.”
With Cleveland leading 28-21, after Josh Perry’s 12-yard run and a Jeff Bem point-after, the Storm were in field goal range, but opted to try and convert on fourth down and 11. Wysong’s pass to Andres Armijo in the northeast corner of the end zone went through Armijo’s hands.
The Bears found the end zone two plays later, then came up with an onside kick and scored three plays later – giving them a 34-28 lead as halftime arrived.
Wysong said the Storm had “been down” before. “We knew we had to step up – me, Strat (Shufelt), Nic (Trujillo), Josh – all the main guys encouraged everybody at halftime, ‘We need to pick our heads up; that’s not us. We need to come out and fire off the ball,’ and that’s what we did.”
In the second half, after La Cueva took a 35-28 lead, the Storm scored on their first four possessions of the half, with rushing TDs by Perry, Wysong and Mbueha in the third period and Wysong early in the fourth.
Aguirre, who intercepted two Volcano Vista aerials in the Storm’s semifinal win eight days earlier, returned an Aiden Armenta pass 35 yards to the end zone and a commanding – most people thought – 62-41 CHS lead.
The Bears wouldn’t go away, and a rushing TD with 5:04 to play made it a two-score lead for the Storm.
Cleveland padded that lead on a 7-yard run by Mbueha, for 68-48, and Aguirre’s 60-yard pick-six for 75-48.
The Bears closed out the record-setting offensive day with two TDs, including on the final play.
La Cueva put up 664 yards worth of offense to the Storm’s 545. The methods of attack were opposite: La Cueva’s Armenta, a future Lobo, was 34 of 66 passing for 522 yards; the Storm ran the ball 57 times for 474 yards – and Wysong didn’t attempt a pass in the second half.
Wysong ran for 246 yards and three TDs; Mbueha gained 106 rushing yards and scored four times, three on rushes; and Perry, limited after hurting a leg, had 103 rushing yards and two TDs,
In addition to the two punts apiece, the Bears were penalized 12 times for 124 yards, the Storm were walked off six times for 61 yards.
Cleveland in championship games
2011 Storm 48, MAYFIELD 28
2015 STORM 48, Eldorado 35
2018 La Cueva 33, STORM 14
2019 Storm 48, RIO RANCHO 40
2021 STORM 35, Rio Rancho 14
2022 Storm 75, LA CUEVA 61
(Home team in CAPS)