RIO RANCHO – We’ll do it again, take 2.
The Cleveland Storm head to Rio Rancho Stadium Friday night for the second time this season, this time for the right to play in the Class 6A championship game on Saturday afternoon, Nov. 25.
Both City of Vision teams won their quarterfinal games handily Friday night.
When it comes to the city’s teams meeting on the gridiron, the Storm (8-3) have had the distinct advantage, winning the last nine in a row – including their Oct. 27 meeting at Rio Rancho Stadium, 37-0. In fact, the last time the Rams (9-3) beat the visiting Storm was back in 2009 – just the new school’s ninth game. The last time the Rams beat the Storm was back in 2016 at Cleveland.
Since their 35-0 loss to visiting Frenship High on Sept. 22, the Storm are on a five-game winning streak, outscoring those opponents 234-25, with back-to-back shutouts.
The Rams have won six of their last seven, the only setback being that lopsided whitewashing by the Storm.
Cleveland beat the Rams 42-28 in their last semifinal meeting, back in 2011 at CHS, when the “perfect Storm” won their first state championship.
Cleveland also beat the Rams in the 2019 championship game, 48-40, at RRHS, and 35-14 in 2021 at CHS.
This season will also be the fifth season in a row, disregarding the pandemic season of 2020, that Rio Rancho has had one or both teams playing in the championship game. The Storm lost the 2018 title tilt to visiting La Cueva, then won it all in 2019, ’21 and ’22.
Cleveland 45, Hobbs 0: In Rio Rancho, the No. 8 Eagles picked the worst time of the season to play their worst game.
Even though the No. 1 Storm (8-3) fumbled the ball away on their first two possessions, Hobbs couldn’t move the ball. By game’s end, the Eagles (6-6) – who won at Lightning Bolt Stadium earlier this year, beating Rio Rancho 24-21 – ran only two plays on the Storm’s side of the 50 all game, and both were intercepted passes.
After a scoreless first period, the Storm started rolling, scoring 24 second-quarter points.
Harris Mbueha started the ball rolling with a 4-yard touchdown run, and Chuka Tutman ended the Eagles’ next possession with an interception, setting the scene for a quick 17-yard, five-play scoring drive, capped on a 17-yard TD pass from quarterback Jordan Hatch to Angel Gallegos.
Then the Eagles’ failures to cover squib kicks – there would be four in all — had the Storm come up with the ensuing kickoff and go 35 yards on six plays, ending with a 15-yard scoring pass from Hatch to Karter Weddle.
It looked like instant replay on the next kickoff by Miguel Quiñones, this time with CHS recovering it at the Hobbs 36. Nine plays later, Quiñones booted a 27-yard field goal and less than 20 seconds later, the half ended, with Hobbs trailing 24-0.
Taking the second half kickoff, the Storm needed three plays to cover 62 yards, with Mbueha racing 54 yards down the west sideline.
Hobbs punted on its next two possessions, the latter one returned 28 yards by Jaden Davis to the Eagles’19.
Five plays later, Hatch hit Weddle with a 7-yard TD pass for 38-0 after another PAT by Quiñones. That got the 35-point mercy rule clock running.
Guess what? The Storm recovered the next kickoff on the Hobbs 29 and Hatch hit Davis with a 29-yard TD pass for the game’s final touchdown and Quiñones’ sixth PAT of the game gave him nine points in all, plus credit for the four squib kickoffs his teammates recovered.
The Eagles finished the lopsided game one of eight on third down, and the one successful conversion gave them a first down at the storm 39 – and the next play resulted in Cleveland’s fourth interception of the game.
CHS coach Robert Garza said he hadn’t been concerned after the first quarter turnovers, “just more (concerned) that we took care of the football. We were movin’ the ball, putting points on the board. Fortunately, our defense showed up, ready to go.”
Those would be his team’s only turnovers.
Two sacks and four picks helped the Storm defense limit Hobbs to 98 rushing yards –83 by senior Saul Armendariz – and nine passing yards. In the first half, the Storm ran 38 offensive plays to 20 for Hobbs.
Hatch threw for 187 yards and four TDs, a solid night for the sophomore.
“These guys played lights out; they were ready to go,” Garza said. “They knew it was win or go home, so they were hungry.”
It was the Storm’s eighth win in as many meetings with Hobbs, with the last four being quarterfinal victories at Lightning Bolt Stadium. The Storm scored 42 or more points in all eight victories.
As for the showdown with the Rams, in light of his team’s domination dating back to 2016 – the last time Rio Rancho beat Cleveland — he said, “That’s why we play the game. It will be a pretty awesome environment – Friday night football.”
Rio Rancho 38, Sandia 6 (By James Yodice/Albuquerque Journal): From the moment the Class 6A state football bracket was announced to everyone two weeks ago, the Rio Rancho Rams were fuming.
On Friday night, the Rams took their frustration out on the Sandia Matadors.
Rio Rancho manhandled Sandia along both lines of scrimmage, and the fifth-seeded Rams blasted the Matadors at Milne Stadium.
“We felt completely disrespected,” said Ramsancho senior running back Rayce Ramirez, who scored three touchdowns in the win. “We felt like we were the better team, and we came out and we showed them today.”
But first, the Rams had a bit of a grudge to settle. Not so much with Sandia, however.
“We talked about respect and earning respect; some of the kids were a little chippy about getting the fifth seed,” Rio Rancho coach Nate Pino said. “I said, well, go out and prove it on the field.”
The Rams were in control throughout Friday.
They kicked a field goal late in the first quarter, then exploded for 21 points in the pivotal and decisive second quarter.
Ramirez’s 2-yard run capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive to up the lead to 10-0; quarterback J.J. Arellano threw a 21-yard screen pass for a score to Dominic Valencia on the next drive (which followed an interception of Sandia QB Cruz Rivera) for a 17-0 lead, and the Rams got the back-breaking score right before halftime.
On the fourth play of that drive, Arellano, on a counter, kept it, ran right up the middle and darted 84 yards, untouched for a touchdown with 53.1 seconds left before halftime.
“I didn’t expect us to go (84), but we were confident we could get 20 or 30 yards, which sets up the possibility to get a field goal,” Rams coach Nate Pino said.
The line blocked it perfect, and Arellano said Ramirez also threw a key block as Rio Rancho went into halftime leading 24-0.
“Demoralizing (to Sandia),” Arellano said, adding, “That was a perfect play call.”
Ramirez added two more TD runs in the third quarter, covering 8 and 7 yards.
Sandia (8-3) closed out a fantastic season, although more with a whimper than a bang.
The Matadors barely avoided a shutout, throwing a touchdown pass to Joey Harris on the final play of the game. Sandia had nothing going in the run game with Hunter Maldonado. The Matadors had minus-2 yards rushing at the half, and were still in the negative through three quarters as they could not penetrate that Rio Rancho defense.
Elsewhere Friday night
Two other quarterfinal games were contested:
- 7 Las Cruces (7-5) upset No. 2 Centennial (7-3), 38-34, at the Field of Dreams.
- 3 La Cueva (7-5) whipped No. 11 Farmington (6-6) 42-6.
This week’s other semifinal will have the Bears playing the Bulldawgs at the Field of Dreams, because those teams’ last meeting with a 2018 semifinal at La Cueva (Wilson Stadium), a 17-14 win by La Cueva.