RIO RANCHO — No. 1 to end last season. No. 1-ranked last week. And No. 1 still on Friday night.
Class 6A’s top-ranked Cleveland Storm rode an opportunistic and turnover-hungry defense to a showdown victory over No. 2 La Cueva, 27-7, on a rainy and stormy night in Rio Rancho.
Cleveland (2-0) scored 21 points off three Bears’ turnovers in the first half, and with several short fields, didn’t have to travel far to earn a sizable lead, with the three drives covering a combined 56 yards. The Storm’s outstanding senior linebacker, Stratton Shufelt, had two interceptions in the third quarter for a stout Cleveland defense which didn’t surrender any points until midway through the fourth quarter. Shufelt also spent a decent bit of time making his presence felt in the La Cueva backfield.
The sad irony for La Cueva was, its defense didn’t play altogether that poorly, but its offense created a giant hole from which there was no escaping as the teams that met in last November’s state final hooked up in a game that didn’t live up to pregame expectations.
On a night in which weather wreaked havoc across New Mexico, this much-anticipated matchup kicked off about 20 minutes late due to lightning, and there was another delay midway through the first quarter.
Cleveland intercepted La Cueva quarterback Cam Dyer twice in the first half. He overthrew one pass, with Marcus la Cuesta waiting. He returned it to the La Cueva 31. Three plays later, running back Harris Mbueha took a handoff and went straight up the middle for the first points.
La Cueva had a lengthy drive come up empty on its ensuing possession, which ended with a missed field goal. Moments later, Cleveland punted, but the punt was muffed and following the Storm recovery and a penalty on La Cueva, the Storm was at the Bear 5.
Mbueha scored on the next snap, and Cleveland owned a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter. A second Dyer pick at midfield, and a nice return, placed Cleveland at the La Cueva 20. Moments later, Storm sophomore quarterback Jordan Hatch, from the 1, received a good push up front and scored on a sneak. It was 21-0 at halftime, as a La Cueva drive inside the Cleveland 10 ended because the Bears ran out of time.
Mbueha added a 31-yard TD run in the third quarter for a 27-0 lead. He finished with over 130 rushing yards, following a solid opening-week performance at Centennial. The Bears kept Cleveland’s passing game in check all evening.
Dyer threw a 20-yard TD pass to Jackson Hix to break up the shutout for the Bears, who visit Centennial Saturday.
Storm warnings: Amarillo High visits Lightning Bolt Stadium Friday for a 6 p.m. kickoff. Josh Perry and Nic Trujillo scored two TDs each in the Storm’s 47-30 victory in Amarillo, Texas, last season, the first meeting between the Storm and the Sandies. Perry and Trujillo are at UNM now, so watch for Mbueha to find the end zone a few more times. Amarillo (0-1) lost its opener, 35-7, to Midland Legacy last Friday night.
… Senior running back and pass defender Andres Aquirre is out for the season, after incurring an ACL tear during the Storm’s scrimmage with West Mesa. Aguirre transferred to Cleveland from Albuquerque High, and behind Josh Perry on the depth chart last year as a junior, had been hoping for a great senior season with the Storm.