After so many years of missing out on the state playoffs, a lot of Roswell Coyote fans have been walking around thinking, Ah! This is what it feels like to be involved in playoff football again. Coyote coach Jeff Lynn has resurrected the football program and been to the playoffs in four of the five years he’s been coached.
If Lynn’s dream of getting into the championship game is to be realized, it all begins here. Now, after a bye week. Roswell’s road to the championship game begins Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Wool Bowl as they take on the Aztec Tigers. The Tigers defeated Goddard last Saturday, 34-27.
Lynn compares the Tigers to a cross between Lovington and Artesia. They want to run the ball, yet throw the ball as much as they run. In their last three games, Aztec passes the ball about 60 percent of the time. The Tigers will line up in a spread formation and depending on the defense, run a check-with-me system at the line of scrimmage.
Aztec’s money man is senior quarterback Cody Smith. Smith has 180 completions out of 290 attempts for 3,033 yards and 36 TDs. He has been prone to throw the interception with 12 on the year. He will also pull the ball down and run it; he has 846 yards on the ground and 11 TDs. In the red-zone, Smith looks to call his own number out of the spread. If he is bottled up on the ground, they will give the ball to another senior in Austin Clay. Clay has 533 yards and seven TDs.
The Tigers like to throw the ball enough to keep defenses from stacking the box on them. When they do they will look for three receivers in Justin Black, Sebastian McNeal and Zach Taylor. Black is the team’s leading receiver with 59 catches, 1,140 yards receiving and eight TDs. He did all this in 10 games this season.
McNeal is a shake-and-bake guy who has the moves and speed to turn a short catch into a home run. He leads the team with 12 TDs, and has 832 yards receiving on 50 balls. Not to be outdone, or forgotten, is junior Taylor, who has 47 receptions, 761 yards and nine TDs.
“They’re skill kids are really good,” Lynn said. “I think the key to the game will be to keep everything in front of us and stop the short gain, and not give up the big play. It’s important to make them earn what they get and go on 10 play drives.”
If the Aztecs have an Achilles’ heel, it’s that they play a lot of their players both ways, and against a physical football team, it has to take a toll on them. Smith is not only their top playmaker on the offensive side of the ball, he’s also their middle linebacker on defense.
The biggest difference between Aztec playing Roswell, and Aztec playing Goddard, was that Goddard gave up two 50-yard pass plays. If Roswell wants to continue in tournament play, they have to limit yards after catch to a minimum.
For this to happen is that Roswell has to play assignment football and make stops. Roswell has to get off the field on third down if they are to be successful. They have to stick to Roswell football and control the clock and the ball. The good news is if the Coyotes are to get into a shootout , this is the team to do it with. While the Tigers’ offense is good, their defense is not good at all. They have given up 61 points to a Farmington team in a loss earlier this season, they also gave up 56 points in a win against Miyamura.
“On defense, the Aztecs will play a 52, sometimes a 3-4, or a Buddy Ryan 46 defense. On special teams, the Coyotes have an advantage, and could return one to the house.
In a “Ground Hog Day,” it was two years ago these same teams met under similar conditions, same coaches, with the Coyotes winning 52-14.
“I thought our kids handled the bye week well,” Lynn said. “I feel like our kids have had a good week of practice. We’ve had a good vibe around practice this week. I feel good right now.”
The Coyotes have rested and healed up this week, since their bye week was the first week of the season. Roswell has played 10 straight weeks and according to Lynn, it showed with his team’s eagerness to hit and come back fresh. Lynn gave his team four days off.
“This is an experienced team,” Lynn said. “The seniors know this could be their last game if they don’t win. They’ve been a part of playoff wins, and they’ve been a part of the other side too. I really feel like this group of seniors are focused. They are ready to take the next step. I like where we’re at and how we’ve gone about our business. I hope for us to take the next step.”
St. Pius X vs Artesia
ARTESIA — There are so many cliches that one could throw at Saturday’s 5A state football quarterfinal contest in Artesia Saturday afternoon.
The No. 1 seed Artesia Bulldogs (8-2) host the No. 8 St. Pius X Sartans (7-4) at 1 p.m. at Bulldog Bowl.
The Bulldogs are looking for state title No. 30. They could’ve had it last year if it wasn’t for the Sartans defeating them 34-24 in the championship game Dec. 3.
Don’t know if Saturday’s game is the proverbial case of Deja vu, but the winner will advance to the semi’s next weekend and will face either either No. 5 Los Lunas or No. 4 Farmington.
Bulldog head coach Rex Henderson was a rookie head coach in last year’s title game. Last year’s game was the last one for longtime Sartan coach San Juan Mendoza.
In Saturday’s game, Henderson will be the veteran and Dave Montoya will be the rookie.
Before you start wondering about Montoya and his first year at the helm, he’s been with St. Pius for a number of years.
“I went to school here and graduated in 1995,” he said. “I started coaching with Mendoza in ‘98.”
Montoya added, “I have been here for a while.”
While the Bulldogs got the free pass in last week’s opening round, the Sartans had to face No. 9 Lovington. St. Pius clawed and scratched their way to a 42-35 victory over the Wildcats.
Montoya said the first quarter was “pretty even.” He added that the Sartans lost senior player Ryan Mcgaha to an injury.
In the second period Lovington had a 21-7 lead. The Sartans were able to score a touchdown in the third period and they held the Wildcats to a single touchdown.
In the final period, St. Pius slammed on the gas. Montoya said his team, “gone on a roll.” The Sartans scored four touchdowns in the final stanza of the game.
Montoya said that Lovington scored another touchdown in the closing stages of the second half but the Sartans were able to keep the Wildcats in check.
The Sartans and the Wildcats met on Sept. 22 and St. Pius won 14-7.
“Both games this year have been real close,” Montoya said of the games with Lovington.
Lovington has been a common opponent of both squads this year. The Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats earlier this month 49-14.
The other common opponents have been Alamogordo, Los Lunas and Valencia.
Getting back to last year’s game, Montoya said he had fond memories of the Sartans win.
“(It was an) end of an era at St. Pius,” he said.
Montoya added, “(it was) emotional being with San Juan for so long (and Montoya) loved that group of seniors last year.”
Montoya had nothing but praise for the Bulldogs.
“They’re a very experienced team,” he said.
Montoya also had praise for senior Bulldog quarterback Taylor Null, calling him, “a great kid.”
Null has been instrumental in the Bulldog offense scoring 463 points this season. He has completed 175 passes on 266 attempts and has passed for 2,778 yards. He’s also thrown for 39 touchdowns and has been picked off three times.
“They have the best center in the state and the backs are fast kids,” Montoya said of the rest of Artesia’s offense.
Regarding Artesia’s defense, Montoya said the defensive line is, “fast and physical.” He also had praise for senior linebacker Miguel Martinez, calling him, “very good.”
Regarding the Sartans, Montoya said Mcgaha is expected to play in Saturday’s game despite the injury against Lovington last week.
“He’s the best player on offense,” Montoya said.
Montoya will also be leaning on sophomore quarterback Diego Pavia during Saturday’s game. “He’s had a great year,” Montoya said.
On defense, Montoya said the Sartans are led by a pair of seniors in middle linebacker Justin Rivera and defensive end Jordan Kroeter.
The Bulldog Bowl has a certain mystique during playoff time. Montoya is familiar with it.
“Our kids are excited to play in a place that loves football,” he said.
“Everybody wants to go against Artesia,” he added.