Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who, what holds keys going into Friday’s Cruces vs. Mayfield rivalry football game

Friday night’s Las Cruces High vs. Mayfield game is fairly typical of years past. Both teams are currently ranked top-four in the state (Las Cruces High No. 2, Mayfield No. 4 according to the website and the contest could very well be an intriguing one.

While the Bulldawgs have been the stronger team throughout the year, Mayfield has come on of late, notching emphatic wins against Oñate (48-0) and Alamogordo (48-12) in recent weeks.

Today we take set the table for Friday’s matchup, and discuss where the game can be won or lost.

Mayfield looking better: A month ago this didn’t appear to be much of a game. Aside from the Bulldawgs being a state-championship caliber team, the Trojans looked very ordinary, an odd sentiment considering recent history had the team notoriously place amongst the state’s finest. But Mayfield had it’s bye week Oct. 19 and has come back a better club since. It’s big wins over Oñate and Alamogordo notwithstanding, the Trojans have looked more like the typical program we’re used to: One that executes well and doesn’t beat itself with turnovers and penalties. Such negative factors were prominent early in the year yet have dissipated in recent weeks.

One talented team: By and large the Bulldawgs have assets to win a state title: A very good offensive backfield (quarterback Jonathan Joy and running back J.J. Granados) a very big offensive line and a strong defensive front-seven. Along both lines of scrimmage the team is quick and should hold an advantage Friday. Make no mistake: Even with the Trojans improved play of late, judging from this season’s overall body of work, the favorite heading into the contest figures to be the Bulldawgs.

Mayfield quarterback play: Can the Trojans move the ball offensively? Granted, LCHS played good pass defense in a mid-year win at Artesia — one of the state’s premier pass-happy teams — but many still believe Las Cruces’ Achilles heal to be the defensive secondary. Mayfield has had a time-share at quarterback with sophomore Kavika Johnson and senior Andrew Serna operating the offense. Both are athletic (Johnson in particular has a pair of wheels in the running game), but can they hit receivers downfield in the passing game? And, when LCHS’s aggressive defensive front pins its ears back, can the Trojans rushing attack — which should include their running quarterbacks — find lanes up front and break off to the races? If the Trojans enter this one with a straight-ahead run, run, run gameplan, it could be a long night against the Bulldawgs beastly front-seven.

Protecting Jonathan Joy: Las Cruces High’s senior quarterback has proven to be a very good player in his first year as a starter. One key for LCHS this week and moving into the state playoffs is fairly obvious: Keeping Joy upright and healthy. As long as he’s under center and running the Bulldawgs offense, this team should be a dangerous opponent every week. If he ever went down? It would seem a dicey proposition for the team’s chances at success.

Playoff impact: If the Bulldawgs win Friday don’t expect much change in the form of playoff seedings for either team. Las Cruces High would remain a top-two seed while the Trojans’ first-round bye (which goes to the top-four teams in the state bracket) would be in jeopardy. But if the Trojans win? Certainly a first-round bye would then be in store and who knows where LCHS would fall. Three other key games in the state playoff picture this weekend: No. 1 Rio Rancho at No. 6 Cleveland in District 1-5A title; No. 3 La Cueva at No. 5 Sandia in District 2-5A; and No. 8 Manzano vs. No. 10 Eldorado in another District 2-5A battle. With that as the backdrop, consider the extreme parity of Class 5A, where teams have essentially beaten up each other all season (for instance: Las Cruces High lost to Rio Rancho yet beat La Cueva; Mayfield fell to Eldorado but topped Manzano). All things considered, if even a few upsets occur in the aforementioned games, the state playoff seedings could be thrown into a tailspin come next week.

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