There have been some big sports events in the City of Vision in recent years, but, arguably, none bigger than last Saturday’s Class 6A championship football game, the first time the city’s schools squared off for that blue trophy.
Indeed, the Observer deemed it so momentous that we had our printer “hold the presses” to get the game story into the next day’s issue, which has never happened before.
A crowd estimated at 5,000 was on hand, braving the 38-degree kickoff temperature and a 23-mph wind that made it feel several degrees colder.
At 3:30 p.m., the game ended — and the Cleveland Storm emerged as state champion after their hard-fought 48-40 victory over the host Rio Rancho Rams.
You could say the city is blessed to have two great athletic programs, and that means more than just football. The wrestling teams finished 1-2 last February at the state tournament, and the varsity boys soccer teams and baseball teams all logged slots in their final fours in 2019.
Incredibly, five of the last six state football championship games have taken place in Rio Rancho: In 2014 and ’16, Rams victories at their stadium; 2015, when the Storm claimed their second perfect-season trophy; last season, when La Cueva was more than the Storm could handle at Cleveland; and last Saturday.
There were numerous posts on social media. We were happy to see nearly all comments either congratulated the Storm for winning or the Rams for their superb battle.
Many expressed pride in the competitiveness of the teams on the field, with one fan suggesting CHS coach Heath Ridenour even should be the next head coach at the University of New Mexico … and there was one grouch who asked if the Storm had paid the officials.
We liked this comment best: “Way to go Rio Rancho and Cleveland! Most of you played as children together and have all grown to be outstanding young men! Great job, boys!”
Both teams had penalties that curtailed their scoring or extended how long it took to get into the end zone, but let us remind you of the biggest play of the contest. Two Cleveland defenders nailed Rio Rancho’s Zach Vigil on a fourth-and-goal from the Storm’s 1.
We didn’t see any yellow flags on the field before or after that play. Had Vigil gotten past Tres Villalpando and David Murphy for a touchdown, a 2-point conversion would have tied the game for the fourth time … and maybe overtime would have been necessary.
But that wasn’t the case. The Rams had their chance.
Yes, it was a game to remember.
The game had gone smoothly, Rio Rancho Public Schools Athletic Director Larry Chavez was happy to report. That says a lot about respect and civility, too.
Bottom line: Congratulations to both schools — and their coaches and players — for providing such a memorable battle at Rio Rancho Stadium.
Also, thanks to the fans for braving the wintry conditions and cheering their teams from the kickoff to the final play.