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Fantastic football championship preview

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In this file photo, Roswell High played Los Lunas in September. They will match up again on Saturday to play in the District 5A Championships. (Diana Carrasco Photo)

Los Lunas at Roswell

Revenge is the motive: Los Lunas came into the playoffs looking to avenge its only two losses of the season. The Tigers’ have already defeated Goddard. If they can beat Roswell, Los Lunas will be able to say they have avenged their two losses on the season.

There has not been this much excitement surrounding the Roswell football program since — well the last time they won a championship with former head coach Jack Cisco in 2001. This season the Coyotes have answered the bell every game and only one game were they outhit and outplayed, and that was the second game of the season when they lost to Hobbs 42-20 at home. The only other loss was to Artesia at the Bulldog Bowl.

A lot of people are jacked up and think this game is a foregone conclusion, that the Coyotes will be celebrating on the Wool Bowl Field about 4 p.m. Saturday and that horns will be honking and Main Street will be crazy all night — as Lee Corso says, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Just throw the game that Roswell played at Los Lunas in September out. That game means nothing and Roswell would be wise to understand that it is going to be a dogfight and the team with the ball last is going to have a chance to win the game.

What Roswell cannot do is come into the game thinking all they have to do is show up and the Blue Trophy is theirs. Roswell cannot come out flat and not ready to play, because it will be hard for them to overcome if they get down by 14-21 points. In the last game that these two teams played, it was the first game without Los Lunas’ all-state quarterback Nick Gaerlan, who was injured in the Goddard game.

Quarterbacks key to the game

Gaerlan was a running quarterback that wanted to run first and pass second, so it was easier for the Coyotes to key in on stopping him. Los Lunas turned to junior Kade Benavidez, who stands 6-foot-1 and a solid 225 pounds. Benavidez is a true representative of what second-year coach Jeremy Maupin wants to do — be Artesia north: with a big distinction between the two schools. Artesia wants to pass the ball short and intermediate, where the Tigers’ are looking to go deep and throw seam routes down the middle of the field.

“In the last game, we played them,” Coyote coach Jeff Lynn said. “We were ready for Gaerlan who was more of a runner and not a passer. This Benavides kid is more of a passer and I think they are doing more of what coach Maupin wants to do with his offense being from Artesia. They are a lot different than when we played them the first time. They are much improved. They present a lot of challenges.

Benavides is more dangerous than Gaerlan because he is bigger and stronger and he will pull the ball down and run up the middle and he has a little wiggle, but he is not afraid to lower his shoulder and try and run over a tackler. He also has the arm to throw the ball 50 yards down the field. With Benavidez, down and distance means nothing to him. there were several times in the game that it was third and 20 or 30 yards to go for a first down and he would find a receiver running a go route near the boundary side of the field, or he would wait until he got the matchup he liked and look for the tight end to go down the seam of the defense.

Benavidez has a host of receivers to throw the ball too — he likes to find his big receiver in height: 6-foot-4 Cody Vocu, and throw 50-50 balls. On fly patterns and seam routes, Benadivez also looked for Andrue Garcia and Hunter Williamson. When they do run the ball, it is normally up the middle to Noah Gum — Gum can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Benavidez will throw it to Gum in the flat out of the back field, so Roswell tacklers have to tackle Gum immediately.

Roswell

When the Coyotes have the ball, quarterback Ethan Valenzuela has to continue to take care of the ball and make the right decisions. Valenzuela has made the right decision and followed his blockers expertly when he has called his number. Valenzuela has played big during the stretch run, and he has to continue to not let the moment get too big for him or his teammates. The good news is that he is a senior and there is no situation he has not faced the last two seasons.

Roswell must play control up tempo offense and tire the Tigers out by going no-huddle. They have to stretch the Tigers’ defense to run east and west while chasing Justin Carrasco on the edges. They also have to throw their bubble screens to Jasia Reese as well as Dylan Tucker. Also, the Coyotes have to take their shots down the field on 50-50 balls to Tucker just to keep the Tigers from loading the box. If they can control the ball like they did last game and go no huddle they have a good chance of tiring the Tigers’ legs out late in the fourth quarter.

Look for the gamble — Special Teams

The Tigers’ came out against Goddard and were ready to play. On their first series of the game in the first quarter against Goddard, with the ball on their 40-yard line, Los Lunas lined up to punt the ball and snapped it to the up back, who ran it for a first down. To start the second half, Los Lunas probably didn’t mean to squib kick, but they did and ended up recovering the ball and changing the complexion of the game.

Roswell

Roswell just has to be who they have been all season. No one has had an answer for their “Starburst” return, or Xavier Gonzales, Dylan Tucker or Reese. Los Lunas may try not to kick the ball to them, but it will be hard to not kick to Roswell the whole game. It was in the last game against Los Lunas — Gonzales took it to the house on a 94-yard kickoff return. On punt returns look for Reese to take it to the house or make a big play.

Defense

The Tigers’ defense is susceptible to the run and the pass, something that Roswell did well the last time they played. Goddard ran the ball on them the first quarter and a half until they went away from it.

The last time that Roswell played Los Lunas they moved the ball and got their big linemen running laterally, tiring them out as the game progressed. The effects showed late in the second quarter and in the fourth quarter. What hurt the Tigers in their last game was when Roswell went on an 18-play drive to start the second half as they gassed the Tigers. Los Lunas’ linebacker Diego Sanchez has not played a lot of defense this year because of an injury to his back which prevents him playing long stints at linebacker.

Even though he has injuries, Los Lunas will bring Sanchez in as a runner near the goal line. He is not only a tough runner, but a devastating blocker.

Roswell

On defense, Roswell has to continue to play fast and swarm to the ball. Roswell has to make tackles on the receivers as soon as they catch the ball, they cannot allow a small gain to go for a big gain or a 40-yard TD. Defensive lineman Xavier Hernandez has to get at least two sacks this game and continue to create havoc with his speed. At linebacker, Cade Manzanares has to continue to lead and be the rock and make big plays when needed — whether it be on special teams or on defense.

The defensive backs have all grown this season, game by game. They will have to play fearless, smart, fast and read their keys and not get beat deep — or allow the Tigers’ receivers to gain confidence.

“What we need to do defensively,” Lynn said, “is limit their big plays. We can’t give up — we don’t want them to hit us over the top. And we have to get off the field on third downs. We call it the Money Down and we have to get off the field on the Money Down.”

Coaches

Los Lunas’ Jeremy Maupin is a master of X’s and O’s. The championship game is nothing new to him. He was the starting quarterback for Artesia in 2004 when they won the 4A title. He served as an assistant coach and play caller for Cooper Henderson until he left to coach the Tigers last season. As Maupin has shown with time to game plan, he made the necessary changes to have his team ready to play football by beating Belen in consecutive weeks — and once in the playoffs, Goddard, and now he will try and figure out Roswell.

“Roswell is a good team and fast team,” Maupin said. “When we played them Carrasco had been hurt, so we didn’t know where he was going to play, he’s a difference maker at running back. We’re hoping we can get a good game going and we’re excited to be there. This is the second time in our school’s history that we’re in the championship game. We lost to Goddard in 2012.”

Roswell

Roswell’s Jeff Lynn has had his team ready to play during the stretch this season. He has capable assistant coaches that he trusts. What Lynn is best at is managing the game and getting his kids to stay together in tough times until the momentum is able to shift back to their side. Neither coach is afraid to gamble with the ball in their own territory or to go for it on fourth downs.

Intangible

Roswell playing for the championship in the Wool Bowl — Playing at home in front of a sell-out crowd of rabid fans — should be enough for the Coyotes’ sixth title. Should be enough.

 

Saturday football stat box

Los Lunas at Roswell

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Wool Bowl

Los Lunas head coach, Jeremy Maupin, second-year, (9-2, season, 17-6 overall),

Roswell head coach, Jeff Lynn, sixth year, (9-1, season, 41-27 overall)

Last Meeting: 2018, Roswell defeated Los Lunas 42-20 at Los Lunas

Los Lunas, Points For (321) Points Against (189), Roswell PF (500) PA (232)

 

Robertson at Dexter

Kickoff: 2 p.m.

Robertson head coach, Leroy Gonzalez, ninth-year, (11-2, 87-30 overall)

Dexter head coach, Arturo Duran, first-year, (10-2 season and overall)

Last Meeting: This is the first meeting between these teams

Robertson PF(361) PA(241), Dexter PF(421) PA(155)