RIO RANCHO – Taking advantage of an interception and a blocked punt, visiting No. 1 Cleveland led 21-0 at halftime Friday night and the host Rams never recovered, falling to their city foe for the ninth meeting in a row.
The Storm’s 37-0 victory not only clinched the District 1-6A championship, but also meant Cleveland (7-3, 4-0 in District 1-6A) retained the City of Vision Championship trophy and guaranteed itself the No. 1 seed for the Class 6A playoffs, when that bracket is released Sunday (nmact.org).
There are some things a team must avoid to win a game against anyone, including a district rival and one from the same city: Don’t make mistakes tops that list.
After the Rams (7-3, 3-1) took the opening kickoff, they drove all the way to the CHS 22, but came up short on a fourth-down play.
After the Storm went three and out, A.J. Manning intercepted a pass from Rams quarterback J.J. Arellano and nine plays later, the Storm capped a 51-yard drive with a 5-yard pass from quarterback Jordan Hatch to Jon Baca.
Miguel Quinones added his first of four points-after – you’ll see why he missed the fifth later – and the Storm led 7-0.
The Rams punted on their next possession, and the Storm made it 14-0 on a five-play, 85-yard march that ended on a 31-yard sprint to the end zone by Harris Mbueha.
Two possessions later, a Noah Nelson punt was blocked, with the Storm getting the ball on the Rams’ 32.
Four plays later, Chuka Tutman went in from the 1 and with less than a minute remaining in the first half, the Rams were looking at their new scoreboard that read 21-0.
It didn’t get any better in the second half: Jaden Davis caught an 18-yard scoring strike from Hatch, who completed his first nine tosses of the second half, and Mbueha went in from the 2, with 4:27 left in the third period.
With Quinones only needing his fifth PAT to make it 35-0 and get the clock running almost non-stop via the mercy rule, a bad snap torpedoed that opportunity.
He atoned for it with 4:30 left in the game, booting a 34-yard field goal.
The rams had the ball three times in the second half; the first ended with a pick by Aidan Joyner, the second ended on downs and the final time also ended on downs.
Unofficially, Mbueha had 115 yards on 19 carries; Hatch threw for 204 yards without an interception.
The last time the Rams beat the Storm at Rio Rancho Stadium was back in 2009, the Storm’s inaugural season.
Cleveland coach Robert Garza was an assistant, seated in the pressbox for that one, a 50-19 Rams victory.
He’d much rather he on the sideline and is now 2-0 vs. the Rams.
“I feel like we’re starting to get our (injured) guys back at the right time; we’re getting healthy, getting some guys rolling again,” Garza said. Among the returnees was senior receiver Karter Weddle.
Garza credited his offensive coaches, but defensive coordinator Eddie Kilmer was at the top of his game. And Garza gave his team Saturday off.
“Now, we got to keep our head on straight,” he added, after players were again warned not to do anything “stupid” with the playoffs on deck.
As for the Rams, who last beat the Storm in 2016 (42-28) at Cleveland, they’re back home Friday at 7 p.m. as the 5 seed, meeting No. 12 West Mesa.