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Fantastic championship football preview

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Roswell’s Joel Sanchez (22) runs the ball against Los Lunas Sept. 13 at the Wool Bowl. (David Rocha File Photo)

For many, the marathon of football season is almost over. There’s only one game left and the last two teams standing in District 4-5A are Los Lunas and Roswell. Roswell is trying to get their 13th win of the season and cap perfection.

Roswell’s Talon Sanders (9) celebrates with teammates after an interception against Los Lunas earlier this season at the Wool Bowl. (David Rocha File Photo)

This season has played out exactly as last year did, only Roswell is undefeated and has gone wire to wire as the No. 1 ranked team in 5A. To get to this point, Los Lunas exploded to turn a 14-14 halftime tie into a 35-14 win over the Goddard Rockets at the Wool Bowl last Saturday.

For Roswell, in the semifinal game, they made short work of Deming after giving up an opening series score to win, 49-12. This might be the first time that Roswell has been perfect in school history. They have smashed the school’s scoring record with 591 points per game. The only team to hold the Coyotes under 30 points this season has been rival Goddard, when they held Roswell to 24 points in a 24-14 loss in the season’s finale.

Roswell and Los Lunas met earlier this year in the fourth game of the season, on Sept. 12 at the Wool Bowl. The game was much closer than the score indicated, 56-33. Roswell and Los Lunas were tied until a Hail Mary touchdown at the end of the first half, which gave Roswell the lead going into halftime.

“Roswell is so good,” Los Lunas coach Jeremy Maupin said. “We made a mistake before half, and came out in the second half and threw a pick-six, and instead of it being close or tied, we’re down by 21 points, kind of like a blink of an eye.”

Roswell coach Jeff Lynn has told anyone that will listen that the Tigers are a much-improved team compared to when they met earlier in the season. Their last three meetings, the Coyotes have gotten the best of the Tigers, at home and on the road.

In their first meeting last season at Los Lunas, Roswell was coming off a shellacking by Hobbs at home. Many fans thought Roswell had no chance because of the way they had lost to Hobbs at the Wool Bowl. Los Lunas was the No. 1 team in 5A at the time, with one of the best quarterbacks in the state, Nick Gaerlan.

Roswell’s defense rose up and shut down the Tigers. Another important thing happened in that game that has carried over to this season, and that is the Coyotes’ special teams have become special. Roswell introduced many teams to the “Starburst,” which has become a scoring weapon. The defense was a force and shut teams down, often making them one-dimensional. Roswell would end up winning that game, 42-20.

The next meeting between the two teams was in the championship game last year. There was one big difference in that Gaerlan was injured and out for the season. His replacement was junior Kade Benavidez. Benavidez is a good passer if he has time to set his feet, but Roswell blitzed him and forced him to throw on the run as the Coyotes’ Dominic Nava had a coming-out party with three interceptions and they won their first championship in over 20 years, 42-6.

In this game, Roswell will keep being themselves with a quick scoring offense. What makes the team go is their offensive and defensive lines. They may not get the credit and are often overlooked, but they have taken bigger teams and ended up punishing them. Another big factor for the Coyotes is they run a no-huddle offense and teams have trouble keeping up with them.

The offense is led by quarterback Dominic Nava, who has made the right calls, for the most part, this season. He has an “it” factor that allows him to escape and get himself and the team out of bad plays. Nava adds explosiveness to the offense. Nava can throw it 50 yards or take it to the end zone himself.

Joel Renteria is the bell cow this year, with over 1,000-yards rushing. On short yardage, look for Roderick Sedillo or Angel Caballero. When Nava passes the ball, he will look for Jasia “Sweet Feet” Reese, Joel “Mr. Everything” Sanchez — look for Alonzo Acosta to be a target near the goal line and also on the 50-50 balls. Nava will also throw the slant to him over the middle. Jaden Valenzuela has come on of late and made some nice catches.

Roswell’s defense, which was a work in progress during the first part of the season, has become a strength as they have held power running teams like Goddard and Alamogordo out of the end zone. They have allowed teams to move the ball on them, but have not given up a play that has broken their back. Their front seven has made stops when they have had to this season. Armando Silva, Zack Buckmister, Isaac Hurst and Freddie Anaya, and ball-hawking defensive back Talon Sanders have been the right answer.

Roswell is the most complete team in 5A. The other overlooked part of the Coyotes is their coaching staff. Jeff Lynn has one of the best staffs around with the right mix of youth and experience. It seems like when the big moments come, the team is able to make adjustments not only at the half, but as the game progresses. The bigger the moment, the more relaxed the coaching staff is, and that translates to the players who expect the right play to be called.

Roswell is riding a two-year wave of being in big games and coming out on top. The game most of the players talk about that started this incredible run was two seasons ago in the 2017 semifinal game when Roswell lost to Belen, 27-20. These seniors were sophomores on that team, which was a close team. That loss has spurred the Coyotes into what they are now — looking to close in on championship No. 2.

“Roswell is the No. 1 team for a reason,” Maupin said. “Our goal was to get back here and give ourselves a chance. We hope to have a really good week of practice and play against a really good football team.”

For Los Lunas this season, their slogan is “Redemption” according to Maupin. The team wants to win the Blue Trophy instead of being happy just to get to the championship game. Los Lunas wants to finish strong.

Maupin feels like last year his team was excited to just be there in the championship game. It was the second time Los Lunas had ever been to the championship.

“Instead of rising to another level,” Maupin said, “our kids just seemed excited to be here. These guys set out to make that difference and we’re hoping we can do it this week.”

Maupin feels like his team will have to defend against Nava, Sanchez and Reese — and if his team can do that, he likes their chances. The last time Los Lunas hosted a championship game was in 2012.

Roswell takes on Los Lunas today in Los Lunas at 2 p.m.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.