Cleveland High quarterback Jordan Hatch got plenty of protection from the offensive line, which also opened holes for running back Harris Mbueha. (Joe Grimando photo)
ALBUQUERQUE – Yeah, that was the Cleveland Storm football team out there Friday evening, the one we’d become accustomed to over the past decade plus.
Moving the ball on offense, playing solid defense and opening the District 1-6A slate with a convincing 35-12 victory over Volcano Vista at Community Stadium.
Senior running back Harris Mbueha ran for 249 yards and scored three times, sophomore quarterback Jordan Hatch had his best varsity game to date.
Senior defensive standout Chuka Tutman was a force on offense, scoring from five yards out and gaining 27 yards on a fourth-down play, and helping CHS (4-3) grab a 21-9 lead.
They were never threatened the rest of the way. All the Hawks (4-2) could manage in the second half against the stout Storm defense, which hadn’t allowed a third-down conversion in the first half, was a field goal.
To a happy Storm squad, head coach Robert Garza gave his kids Saturday off from practice, noting they’d watch film on Monday.
Jaden Davis caught a 24-yard TD pass from Hatch late in the third quarter for a 28-12 lead, and Mbueha rumbled 49 yards for Cleveland’s final touchdown.
Í feel great,” Mbueha said after the game and 29 carries. “I was a little nervous coming into the game. This game was a very big, important gamer for us. We’re still No. 1, baby.”
Davis, who recently committed to play baseball at New Mexico State University, said, “Coach told us, come out, we’re gonna win, go 1-0 in district no matter what even though we have three losses. That doesn’t mean anything.
Hatch, 13 of 19 passing for 137 yards and two TDs, said, “I think (this win) is going to get us rolling for district. We have the best O line in the state – I see it every day at practice. They’re outstanding.”
That O line didn’t allow a sack and protected Hatch well.
“That Harris is a baller; he’s got a lot of heart,” Hatch added, knowing he fares better as a QB when he’s got Mbueha, who drew at least one comparison to former NFL great Jerome “The Bus” Bettis,
As usual, kicker Miguel Quinones was perfect, booting five points-after along the way.
After their recent struggles, which included a 35-0 loss to Frenship one week earlier, the Storm scored on their second and third possessions of the first half. Hatch was intercepted to end the first possession, but Mbueha scored on a seven-yard run in the first quarter and Tutman, one of three possible ball-carriers lining up behind Hatch on this play, went in from the 5 as the Storm went on to lead 14-9 at intermission.
The Storm’s scoring drives, mostly run out of a fast-paced, no-huddle offense, were all 63 yards or longer, with their longest drive of the night, an 87-yarder, requiring 13 plays, eating up a lot of the clock.
The defense came up big on multiple occasions, as two of the first three Hawks’ first-half possessions ended when VVHS couldn’t convert a fourth down. The Hawks’ running back, Aliijah “A Train” Gonzales had a good night, but paling in comparison to Mbueha, as he gained 126 yards on 24 carries, of which 21 were for four or fewer yards.
“He’s a good player and they’ve got a good football team,” acknowledged CHS defensive coordinator Eddie Kilmer. “Our kids played really hard. … I don’t know why they continued to run it; you’d think they’d try to throw it.
“One of their coaches told me, ‘We’ll see you again (in the postseason),” so we’ll see.”
The Storm knocked the Hawks out of the postseason, each time in the semifinals, in 2018 and again last season.
The Storm are idle this weekend, then home Oct. 13 to entertain Atrisco Heritage Academy at 7 p.m. AHA opened 1-6A competition with a 36-25 victory over winless Cibola last week.
The Jaguars (5-2) are winless in six previous meetings with the Storm, who shellacked them 54-0 last season, which included two TDs from Mbueha.
Rams idle last week; Jaguars visit Friday
It will be a homecoming of sorts for the Rio Rancho High School football team Friday, with their District 1-6A opener vs. Atrisco Heritage Academy (5-2, 1-0) and a celebration of the newest class in the RRHS Sports Hall of Fame.
The Rams’ scheduled Homecoming game, on Sept. 15 vs. Hobbs, was moved to Cleveland High School’s field because of a campus outage at RRHS. That also circumvented the traditional HOF induction ceremony and halftime introduction of the class on the field.
The RRHS SHOF Class of 2023 is made up of student-athletes Kayla Hammond, Troy Harris, Tamara Lementino, Zack Rogers and Caleb Rubalcaba, plus coach/athletic director Vine Metzgar.
The Jaguars, coached by former Rams assistant Howard Knezevich, have proven to be effective on offense, led by a handful of their outstanding basketball players, including QB and scoring threat Marquise Renfroe.
The Rams are 8-0 all-time vs. AHA, including a 48-27 romp last season at Community Stadium. JJ Arellano tossed six TD passes in that one.