RIO RANCHO – It’s definitely the “Big Game” of the year for the Cleveland and Rio Rancho high school football teams, and it’s at Rio Rancho Stadium Friday (Oct. 27) night. Kickoff is 6 p.m. (Note time change.)
The 18th gridiron meeting of the host Rams and visiting Storm means first place in District 1-6A and a probably first-round bye in the upcoming state playoffs. A win by the visitors more than likely means the No. 1 seed for the 12-team postseason.
But will the No. 1 Storm (6-3, 3-0 in District 1-6A) win again this time? A win over the Rams guarantees the Storm the top seed for the playoffs, with the bracket released Sunday evening at nmact.org.
Cleveland has won the last eight meetings, including state championship meetings in 2019 and 2021. The Storm have appeared in the last four championship games and won three of them, and many say their 2020 team, which played that season in the spring of 2021, may have been CHS’s best team ever.
Cleveland has won the last six games at Rio Rancho Stadium, where the Rams (7-2, 3-0) haven’t beaten the Storm since their first meeting, way back in 2009. To put that in perspective, most of this season’s seniors, probably 17 today, could have been at that game and in the bleachers when they were 3 years old.
But that’s all in the past. What happened back then and even last November shouldn’t have any ramifications on Friday’s meeting.
Here’s what to look for:
Cleveland: Quarterback Jordan Hatch prefers staying in the pocket and, if not handing off to Harris Mbueha, throwing a pass, with Jaden Davis his prime target.
If Mbueha has the ball, it’ll require 3-4 Rams to make the tackle.
On defense, middle linebacker Stratton Shufelt is the state’s most-recruited player and a solid anchor for that corps, which includes another top-notch linebacker, Isaac Medrano.
The Rams’ defense will need to get organized quickly when the Storm are running their fast-paced no-huddle offense.
Cleveland is averaging 33.3 points a game and only yielding 16.9 per game – and has held six opponents to two or fewer TDs.
Rio Rancho: Quarterback J.J. Arellano is a dual threat, just as likely to tuck the ball and run with it as toss it.
When he throws in, Anthony Raymer is a likely target. In the backfield, Rayce Ramirez has breakaway speed, as does Arellano.
The Rams’ defense is also solid, but prone to too many penalties.
The Rams’ offense averages 32.4 points per game (not counting the forfeit win over La Cueva in the opener) and gives up 21 points a game. They’ve given up at least two TDs in every game except one, a 34-7 victory at Organ Mountain.
Cleveland vs. Rio Rancho/all-time football meetings
2009 RIO RANCHO 50, Cleveland 19
2010 CLEVELAND 27, Rio Rancho 7
2011 Cleveland 34, RIO RANCHO 32
CLEVELAND 42, Rio Rancho 28 (semifinal)
2012 Rio Rancho 35, CLEVELAND 0
2013 Cleveland 28, RIO RANCHO 14
2014 Rio Rancho 24, CLEVELAND 22
2015 Cleveland 44, RIO RANCHO 14
2016 Rio Rancho 42, CLEVELAND 28
2017 Cleveland 35, RIO RANCHO 32
2018 CLEVELAND 42, Rio Rancho 7
2019 Cleveland 35, RAMS 20
’19 championship game Cleveland 48, RAMS 40
Spring 2021 CLEVELAND 42, Rams 0
2021 Cleveland 28, RIO RANCHO 27
’21 championship game CLEVELAND 35, Rio Rancho 14
2022 CLEVELAND 35, Rio Rancho 14
(Home team in all CAPS; postseason games in bold.)