By Arnie Leshin
Ruidoso has preferred to sleep in its own beds instead of hitting the 193-mile road to Santa Fe on Friday, having a practice, and then getting set for the state high school football championship scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Ivan Head Stadium.
Ivan Head was the switch made as the site after it was originally slated for 4th-seeded St. Michael’s Chrisitan Brothers Athletic Complex the same day. Otherwise, 2nd-seeded Ruidoso would have found its fans cramped alongside the Horsemen contingent in the one-sided stands below the press box. For the Warriors, a switch in time was best for they’d rather have their supporters in their own sections.
“Yes,” that’s all well and done and we appreciate it,” said Ruidoso head coach Keif Johnson now in his 16th season. “But we still expect a tough test. It’s also a drive over 3 and a-half hours, and we’re hoping for plenty of supporters plus a playable weather forecast in mid-afternoon.”
Johnson’s program has won four state titles, the last in 2013-14. He said he figures his team bus will arrive in the City Different on Saturday morning with only a few injuries, but none serious. Most important, he has his big offensive threats in 5-10, 140 senior quarterback Cooper Pritchett, leading ball carrier 5-10, 175-pound senior Kaden Sago, and versatile 5-11, 160 junior Logan Sandoval. For pass-catcher, there’s a good one in 5-6, 145 senior Connor Hall.
They also have experienced lines on both sides of the ball, and enough size. Leading the way along the offense is 5-11, 205 senior Reid Enjady, 6-1, 215 sophomore Braye Venego, 6-6, 237 sophomore Connor Williams, and 5-11, 205 tackle Omar Guerrero. Mostly all the Warriors go both ways along the lines.
On defense, 5-7, 145 senior Zander Ahidley is at cornerback, is fast, and has experience, but the big man just that, 6-7, 250 senior Dalton Trapp, who as a defensive end, is equally adept at tackles, sacks and interceptions. He also goes the way of tight end and has good hands.
Ruidoso has a pass and run offensive mixture. This is because of Pritchett’s arms and legs, good running backs, and stellar receivers. For speed. Sandoval is probably the main man. He runs anchor on the track and field sprint relay teams, Sago can also be included, and Trapp, with the size of a field event athlete, also has good speed.
The Warriors have a dozen seniors, 10 juniors, 18 sophomores, and 15 freshmen on the 55-man roster. Their lone loss was 24-14 in a game two test at non-district opponent Portales, then they won 11 in a row.
St. Michael’s only setback was 28-20 to district rival and defending state champion Robertson, and it won its last six contests to take the field at 11-1. It has won three states under head coach Joey Fernandez, who is now in his 20th year at his alma mater, where he displayed his versatility as a two-way standout.
“I figure this to be a good one,” Fernandez said, “they have experience, size, depth and excellent, and coaching, we’ve got to control their fast-moving offense and aggressive defense.”
The Horsemen quarterback is 6-foot, 175 senior Zach Martinez. He has passed for 1,959 yards for 18 touchdowns. He has completed 219 passes, and can always take off and run if the situation calls for it. He has turned in seven TDs with his legs.
The leading rusher is 5-11, 165 senior Marcus Leyba. He has tugged the ball 149 times for 893 yards and 16 touchdowns. The leading receiver is 5-10, 175 senior Creed Chavez, and he has hauled in 54 passes for 839 yards and nine touchdowns. And Leyba has caught 24 for 377 yards and 11 TDs.
Also up there among the ball carriers is 5-9, 145 sophomore Cole Sandoval and he has reeled in 29 for 269 yards and a trio of touchdowns. And another leading receiver is 6-3, 250 senior Taven Lozand, a two-way end who is equally tough on defense and a truly potent pass-catcher with 477 yards on 29 receptions good for seven touchdowns.
The Horsemen have made 146 field downs, eight less than the opposition. They have rushed 288 times for 1,987 yards, the opponents 328 carriers for 1,380 yards. Through the air, St. Michael’s has thrown for 2,100 yards, about a hundred more than the opposition. Its passing has been good for 57.6 percentage against 43.0 for the opposition.
All just numbers, numbers, numbers, and that’s who wins, the team with the most numbers when it comes to scoring.