We made it! The prep football playoffs are finally here and, look at that, not that many teams from the area even made it. Including the Las Vegas, N.M., schools, just five teams are still alive, and four of them play this weekend.
A look at the postseason games on tap:
5A quarterfinals: No. 10 Artesia (5-5) at No. 7 Capital (6-3)
Kickoff: 7 p.m.
Last week: Artesia was stunned, 28-22, by visiting Alamogordo. Capital routed visiting Santa Fe High, 28-0.
Outlook: This is only the third meeting between these teams and the first time since long before anyone in a Capital uniform was even thought of. How is Artesia, the state’s most decorated team with 30 state titles, seeded 10th? A winless district run explains it, as does the .500 record and a defense that surrendered 36 points a game.
Winnable for the Jaguars? Absolutely, if they can avoid the ‘wow’ factor of the Artesia mystique. The Bulldogs’ tradition is usually worth a touchdown or two, particularly in high-profile games like this where the opponent is climbing onto the big stage for the first time.
Capital will get its points, but the big concern is the health of RB Gio Muñoz. He’s the zig and zag to RB Luke Padilla’s bulldozing speed. If they’re both good, so is the offense.
Vastly underrated is the Jaguar defense. The unit has pitched five shutouts and has held seven opponents under 20 points. It’ll get its stiffest test with Artesia’s air-raid offense. Bulldogs QB Clay Houghtaling is averaging nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns a game, so putting pressure on him is an obvious must.
The favorite: Artesia by 5.
Why: Capital is looking to rewrite its history, and there’s no better way to do that than taking down the Goliath of New Mexico prep football. Tall task, but no matter how you slice it, the Jags are underdogs.
3A quarterfinals: No. 11 Hot Springs (5-5) at No. 6 West Las Vegas (6-4)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Last week: Hot Springs beat Hatch Valley, 26-15. West Las Vegas lost to Robertson, 14-0.
Outlook: The Dons nearly played their way into a first-round bye a week ago. That’s what a win over Robertson would have meant; a week off and a top-four seed. The loss leaves them here against a Tigers squad that got itself into the playoffs with a road win in the regular season finale. A bubble team at best, the Tigers have only beaten one opponent with a winning record and faces a state semifinalist from a year ago.
Let’s just get this out of the way: The Dons are good and it’s hard to overlook the possibility of a rematch with Robertson in next week’s quarterfinals. It’s a shame that the powers that be couldn’t have kept the Vegas schools apart until at least the semifinals, but it is what it is.
Does Hot Springs have the defensive backfield to stop West’s John Balizan to Omar Gallardo connection? Probably not. The duo has averaged five connections and nearly 80 yards per game. This is Balizan’s last foray into the playoffs, and if anyone knows anything about him, he’s ready to make an impact.
The favorite: West Las Vegas by 11.
Why: The Dons are already looking forward to a quarterfinal date with Robertson, so it’s safe to assume they’re not going to make the mistake of overlooking a team they should beat.
3A quarterfinals: No. 9 St. Michael’s (4-5) at No. 8 Raton (5-5)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Last week: Raton came to Santa Fe and smacked the Horsemen around, winning 34-13.
Outlook: If we’re being honest, not great for the Horsemen.
This has been a hard year for a program that has been one of the state’s top teams for nearly two decades, getting manhandled in its first three games and then blown out the last two weeks by district rivals. The loss to Raton last week not only cost the Horsemen a home game, but set in motion the very real possibility that the season will be done by time the sun goes down Saturday.
St. Mike’s has not won a playoff game since 2016, so ending that drought means finding a heartbeat that simply hasn’t been there for weeks. Ending it against the team that just dragged them up and down their own field a week ago seems highly unlikely, but not out of the question.
How is that possible? Getting back the five key players who missed the last meeting will help. Establishing some sort of running game to take the heat off the passing department wouldn’t hurt. Making stops on defense is always nice. What’s even better is taking the earful the team received from the coaches and turning it into something positive.
Can it be done? Sure.
Will it? Jury’s still out.
The favorite: Raton by 7.
Why: There’s your motivation, Horsemen. Even your hometown paper has doubts. Go prove everyone wrong.
4A quarterfinals: No. 10 Silver (5-5) at No. 7 Taos (6-4)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Last week: Silver lost at home to Deming, 22-14. Taos won at home against Bernalillo, 28-7.
Outlook: What an odd year it’s been for the defending state champion Tigers. They opened with a pair of solid wins and, for a time, were ranked No. 1. Then came four straight losses that included two shutouts. Then there were four straight wins to climb back into the realm of bona fide playoff threat.
Credit head coach Art Abreu Jr. for pulling this team’s season out of the trash can and getting things back online.
The linchpin for the Tigers’ offense is RB Armando Valerio, an emotional senior who has gamebreaking ability and an 8.0-yard average per carry. He managed to surpass the 1,000-yard mark during the regular season, and when he’s in the zone, it makes things that much easier for QB Noah Armijo to find his favorite target, WR Angel Limas.
Silver’s biggest obstacle is overcoming the seven-hour drive from the state’s far southwest corner. That, and finding room for do-everything QB Walker Wenzel to do his thing under center.
The favorite: Taos by 6.
Why: The defending champs have turned things around in a big way and have their sights set on a date with Portales next week.