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Capital High Faces Tough Opponent in 5A Football Tournament

Underdog Capital High faces a tough opponent when it hits the road for Friday night’s state 5A football tournament opening round at Los Lunas

Tigers are fierce at home and have played a rugged slate, losing to top-seed Artesia, undefeated Belen, and 3rd seeded Roswell, with the Jaguars winning District 2-5A

Arnie Leshin

By ARNIE LESHIN,  Santa Fe Today

It was the usual packed Memorial Stadium, Los Lunas’ home field, a football shootout. It was the season opener against non district rival Aztec and the teams rang up a grand total of 114 points. It was Tigers versus Tigers.

For Los Lunas it was the only tough home game until 5-5A rivals Artesia and Roswell arrived later in the season. Aztec led 21-13 after one quarter, trailed 47-23 at the half, and held a 21-13 advantage over the last two quarters. But Los Lunas held on for a 60-54 victory.

Only two more close contests on their home turf were played, both defeats, one a 30-27 setback to top-seeded Artesia, the other a 35-34 loss to undefeated Belen. The rest were romps over every other visitor. The other defeat was at 3rd seeded Roswell, 22-18. That’s three defeats by a grand total of eight points.

And in the opener, it was back-and-forth, thanks to junior quarterback, Nick Gaerlan, it was Los Lunas having the final word. Through the air, Gaerlan connected on 19-of-34 passes for 316 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Along the ground, he ran for 127 yards and a TD on 23 carries.

He was the difference, he still is. He is the engineer of his team’s offense.

Aztec (5-5) qualified as the 6th seed. Artesia (8-2) is No. 1. Roswell (7-3) is No. 3. Los Lunas also ran up a 54-33 win over 8th seed Albuquerque St. Pius 8 (6-4), so it comes off a rugged regular-season, but proved to be right up there with the best.

Now comes Capital (6-4), winners of District 2-5A and the 12th and final seed. The Jaguars hit the road Friday night as a solid underdog. But they were in the same role in the opening-round in 2015 at Goddard and lost by one point when their kicking game failed.

Despite playing in a weak district, they did defeat previously unbeaten 4A Moriarty, 14-7, at home. Among the losses at Jaguar Field were to 5A 7th seed Miyamura, 5A 9th seed Lovington, and on the road at 11th seed 5A Goddard, which left Capital with the final seed because of this head-to-head loss.

But Las Lunas is tough at home, always has been although it has never won a state football championship. It plays before capacity crowds, with spectators shut out having to watch from the outside fences.

Even with the high-scoring win over Aztec and two losses to Artesia and Belen, the Tigers outscored their visitors 261-118. They won via three-straight shutouts after the Aztec tussle.

While Capital has been relying on freshman running back Luke Padilla, Los Lunas can count on the versatile Gaerlan and several others who can tote the ball. The Jaguars depend on senior quarterback Cisco Leos, and he looks for senior wide receiver Lucas McNatt most of the time, but Gaerlan has numerous targets.

No doubt Capital is outsized, but it plays with aggressiveness, confidence, and pride. It quickly trailed district foe Los Alamos 13-0 at home last week, but then rolled to a 49-21 romp. It did so behind the 185 yards and four touchdowns from Padilla. He carried the ball 23 times. He is only the second freshman to ever start for long-time Jags’ head coach Bill Moon.

“I don’t like to do this,” Moon said, “but Luke is a gifted runner and belongs. He has a great attitude, confidence, leadership, and we are fortunate to have him.”

It’s a trip south down I-25, about a 70-mile ride, and if Capital can spring this stunning upset, it will take breaks, lots of breaks, and hope for a letdown or overconfidence on the part of Los Lunas. It is the first time the schools have met on the football field. The winner gets to play at Farmington in the state quarterfinals Nov. 13-14.

On the road, the Jaguars are 2-2.

The semifinals are Nov. 24-25, the championship on Dec. 2.

In 4A, St. Michael’s, which defeated Capital handily at home, is the top seed and has a first-round bye before facing Friday night’s 9th seed Shiprock at 8th seed Hatch Valley winner at the Christian Brothers Athletic Complex in a Saturday afternoon kickoff the following week.

The Horsemen are 9-1, have won seven in a row after their lone loss at Moriarty, and have turned back 2nd seed Portales at home and 3rd seed Robertson in Las Vegas. They have also won over District two opponents West Las Vegas and Taos, the 6th and 7th seeds.

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