Cleveland’s tight end Jon Baca (34) celebrates his first-half TD catch with fellow receiver Karter Weddle. (Photo by Joe Grimando)
Teams from Amarillo and El Paso handed Rio Rancho’s varsity football teams losses last Friday, the first loss for each team. (The Rams’ loss to La Cueva was later decided in their favor because La Cueva used an ineligible player.)
This week, the Storm and Rams face teams with losing records; each of their foes is 0-3.
Amarillo 28, Cleveland 27 (OT): For the third week in a row, the Storm (2-1) scored 27 points, but this time it wasn’t enough.
Amarillo High may not have known Cleveland quarterback Jordan Hatch was injured and wouldn’t start in their game at Lightning Bolt Stadium, but the Sandies obviously knew that to be successful they’d have to stop the Storm’s go-to guy, No. 2, Harris Mbueha.
Mission accomplished. Although the Storm’s senior running back gave CHS an early lead, he was effectively bottled up, only gaining 65 yards on 26 carries, after exceeding 100 yards in the Storm’s first two games.
And when Mbueha was handed the ball and raced left, hoping to find the end zone for a game-winning 2-point conversion, he was yanked down near the Storm sideline and the game was over.
The Storm’s offense never got untracked, and the proverbial wiring may have been on the wall when, already with one fumble, the snap from center on the fourth offensive play of the game for Cleveland whizzed past an unready quarterback Micah Hoffman, and Mbueha scrambled to pick it up, only to fumble it. Fortunately, a teammate recovered the ball and that possession ended in a punt by Stratton Shufelt – one of seven in the game.
Hoffman completed only four passes, two in each half, for a total of 59 yards. With Mbueha bottled up, that resulted in so many Shufelt punts, including one with a good roll that went 61 yards.
Mbueha gave the Storm a first quarter lead with a 2-yard run and Hoffman found tight end Jon Baca open in the end zone in the second quarter to give the hosts a 14-0 lead.
Amarillo’s Jaylend Brashears took a high bounce off the second-half kickoff and raced 95 yards down the east sideline to spoil the bid for a shutout. The PAT missed, wide left.
Another costly fumble by the Sandies gave the Storm the ball on the Amarillo 25, and Juan Muñoz made them pay with a rushing TD on the first play of that possession.
Ryland Leathers was the story of the game in the second half, catching two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
Until Leathers’ heroics, with the game-tying TD coming on a fourth-and-10 situation with less than 36 seconds to go in regulation, the Storm defense had been stingy again, allowing only 38 yards’ worth of offense in the first half.
But the offense couldn’t muster a good drive in the second half, going 0 for 5 on third-down plays until Mbueha had a 10-yard gain – his longest rush of the game – on the Storm’s final possession in regulation.
“They stepped up and made a big play,” CHS coach Robert Garza said of the OT stop of Mbueha. “Give credit to them.”
The Storm are home again Friday at 7 p.m. when they entertain winless Las Cruces (0-3) in Stormcoming. The Storm are 6-1 all-time vs. Las Cruces, and have won their last 11 (of 12 altogether) “Stormcoming” games.
Eastlake 35, Rio Rancho 7: Also on Friday night, down in the west Texas town of El Paso, the visiting Rams (2-1) suffered a similar fate, although no overtime session was needed to decide a winner.
The Rams trailed 21-7 at halftime, their only score coming on a touchdown by tight end Mike Santos.
Both Rams quarterbacks, senior Noah Nelson and junior JJ Arellanos shared time, coach Nate Pinto said, and will do so again this week.
“Both guys will play snaps each week, but we will have a starter getting the lion’s share of the reps moving forward,” Pino said. “But that is to be determined; we’re waiting for one guy to separate a little more.”
Offensively, Pino said, the rams need to finish drives better, and didn’t take advantage of opportunities in the passing game in El Paso.
Defensively, he said, the Rams need to get better on third down, as Eastlake’s third-down success led to some TDs.
As far as special teams, he said, “We played well, had a blocked punt that led to a score; we covered kicks and returned well.”
The Rams hit the road again this week, where they’ll meet Organ Mountain (0-3) at 11 a.m. (time changed on Sept. 6) Saturday on the Field of Dreams.
After scoring 35 or more points in their first six meetings with the Knights, the Rams managed only 20 points last year, but that 20-13 victory made them 7-0 all-time against this Las Cruces team. RRHS is 6-8 all-time at the Field of Dreams, with half of those wins coming over the Knights.
RAMifications: Former Rams football standout Keshawn Banks didn’t make the Green Bay Packers’ 53-man opening day roster, but was signed to the Packers’ practice squad. Another former Ram, Grant Hermanns, was a casualty of the New York Jets, for whom he appeared in two games in the 2022 season. He’s now a free agent offensive lineman.