Cleveland offensive standouts, from left, Karter Weddle, Jaden Davis and Jordan Hatch celebrate their victory, with the scoreboard showing the Storm won, 38-7. Hatch had tossed each a TD pass in the third quarter, 38 yards to Davis and 10 yards to Weddle. (Herron photo)
RIO RANCHO – The awesome postseason shutout streak ended 8.2 seconds short of three games, but not No. 1 Cleveland High’s streak of consecutive state championship game appearances, which becomes five on Saturday at 1 p.m. when No. 3 La Cueva visits Lightning Bolt Stadium. (To get tickets, visit gofan.co/nmaa)
Beating their city and district foe Rio Rancho 38-7 — the 10th time in a row and second time this season — the Storm (9-3) advanced into the Nov. 25 Class 6A championship game. La Cueva (9-3) pummeled visiting No. 7 Las Cruces 63-33 in the other 6A semifinal Friday night.
The Storm limited the host No. 5 Rams (9-4) to less than 50 yards of total offense until the Rams scored on their final possession, a 13-play, 80-yard drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback J.J. Arellano to Jace Pitt.
The Storm’s postseason shutout streak began at the same place, Rio Rancho Stadium, in a 37-0 whitewashing of the Rams Oct. 27 in the District 1-6A championship game, continued in a 45-0 shellacking of Hobbs in a quarterfinal contest on Nov. 10 at Cleveland and just fell short in the semifinal meeting back at Rio Rancho Stadium on Friday.
An offside call on a third-down play and later a 10-yard holding call aided the Rams’ final possession and score of the 2023 season.
“This is freakin’ awesome,” second-year CHS coach Robert Garza told his players, gathered around him after the game. “We did what we were supposed to do.”
Of course, what they “were supposed to do” was win; it was the Storm’s 10th consecutive win over the Rams, who last beat them at Rio Rancho Stadium in 2009.
Making that trip to another title game were a 17-point second period and a 21-point third quarter.
Miguel Quiñones, money all season, booted a 30-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead; he would add five points-after along the way.
Senior running back Harris Mbueha, finishing the game with 168 yards on 26 carries, scored the Storm’s next three TDs on rushes of 10, 2 and 13 yards, the latter coming with 5:20 left in the third period.
In the time that remained before the fourth quarter, quarterback Jordan hatch hooked up with Jaden Davis on a 38-yard scoring pass – nobody was near Davis when he caught the ball, and Karter Weddle on 10-yarder, which came 11 plays after the storm recovered a squib kickoff.
That completed Cleveland’s scoring and got the 35-point running clock going, with the Rams almost running out of time before being shut out again by their city foe.
The Rams’ offense stumbled on third down, converting only one of five such plays in the first half, and accumulating less than 50 yards of offense in the first half, when the Storm were penalized 60 yards. The Rams didn’t commit a penalty in the first half, although they came close to scoring when they got as far as the CHS 25, only to see a 42-yard field goal attempt by Bryson Strohecker miss its mark.
The Rams’ next best scoring opportunity came midway through the second period, but Arellano was intercepted by Malachi Jaramillo at the CHS 24. Five plays later, the Storm were in the end zone, thanks to a 36-yard reception by Davis that got them down to the Rams’ 27.
Twice again failing to convert on third down, Noah Nelson came on to punt before halftime.
“They definitely owned the line of scrimmage,” second-year Rams coach Nate Pino said. “We had guys that were open and just didn’t make plays at the time. … I think the leadership form our senior guys – I told the guys, they got nothing to hang their heads over. Nine wins, and adversity – we had bumps in the road and at the end of the day, they got better as the season went: from pre-district to district to the playoffs, they got after it. They played well. There’s bright days ahead.”
“I feel great, coming off my rehab,” Weddle, a senior, said, having bounced back from a broken wrist on Sept. 8 in 42-13 romp over las Cruces. “The training staff has put me in position, and I trust my “It was amazing,” Davis, also a senior, added. “We were ready to play these guys, knowing for sure we were gonna, hopefully, kick some butt. Our offense came out and did our job – I’m gonna give credit for this whole game to our defense. All year they’ve been playing lights out.”
“We came out a little slow, cuz they showed a completely different defense than we planned for,” said Hatch, a sophomore. “Coach Hoffman adjusted, up in the (pressbox), and we came out and put up 38 points. It was a good day.”
Mbueha agreed with Hatch that the Rams showed a different look on defense but was happy his team could adjust.
He scored four TDs in the Storm’s 75-61 championship win over La Cueva last November, and wasn’t sure if he could repeat that, but, “with that line in front of me and the coaches behind me, I think we can pull something off.”
The Storm are 9-4 all-time vs. La Cueva, which they beat 21-7 on Aug. 25; the Storm have won the last three meetings, with the last La Cueva victory coming in the 2018 championship game at Lightning Bolt Stadium, 33-14.
Cleveland’s previous championship games
2011 Cleveland 48, MAYFIELD 28
2015 CLEVELAND 48, Eldorado 35
2018 La Cueva 33, CLEVELAND 14
2019 Cleveland 48, RIO RANCHO 40
2021 CLEVELAND 35, Rio Rancho 14
2022 Cleveland 75, LA CUEVA 61
(Home team in CAPS)