Thursday, December 6, 2012

What to watch: Friday's LCHS vs. Sandia state championship game

(Bullldawgs quarterback Jonathan Joy continues to run a flawless offense. Las Cruces High needs such a performance for just one more game/Photo courtesy of the Albuquerque Journal)

It’s seemed like a foregone conclusion for much of the year: The Las Cruces Bulldawgs playing for the 2012 State Football Championship in early December.

This is a talented team that’s hit it’s stride during the past month of the season.

Their final test awaits tonight: Taking down Sandia in Albuquerque. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Wilson Stadium between the No. 2-ranked Bulldawgs and No. 4-ranked Matadors.

Below is a breakdown of the game, and what to watch for heading into tonight’s contest:

• Bring your lunch pail: For all intents and purposes, Las Cruces High is the favorites going into tonight’s game. Their talent notwithstanding, the Bulldawgs have simply been on fire of late and haven’t had a particularly tough path to the state championship game to this point — facing No. 7 Clovis in the opening round, No. 11 Eldorado last weekend and now No. 4 Sandia. The Bulldawgs simply need to take the field with a healthy dosage of respect for the competition and be willing to do the dirty work as if they are the underdog at kickoff. If they play a straight-up, nose-to-nose football game for four quarters, that alone should give them a definitive edge in the contest.

• Mistake free: At this point, the only conceivable way the Bulldawgs slow down tonight is if they get in their own way. Last week against Eldorado, LCHS was a well-oiled machine, only stumbling when they tripped themselves in the form of penalties. Sandia will need to force some LCHS turnovers to have any chance in this one — a required plus-two or plus-three in turnover ratio for the Matadors seems necessary in order for Sandia to compete at a high level.

• Defensive gameplan: Last week the Bulldawgs played your classic bend-but-don’t-break scheme. As opposed to the man-to-man coverage in its secondary many have become accustomed to, LCHS played predominantly a deep zone against Eldorado — it also worked for a secondary that’s struggled containing the pass throughout the year. One would think the Las Cruces High defense will deploy a similar gameplan today against Sandia: Rely on the defensive line to stop the run and keep opposing wide receivers in front of the defensive backfield’s coverage.

• Sandia’s scoring prowess: With Las Cruces High’s offense locked in during recent weeks, one would think the Matadors will have to keep up in a track meet tonight. Do they have the weapons? The Matadors will throw the football out of a spread offense with quarterback Craig Coffman at the controls. They do have some athletes on their roster and size on their offensive and defensive lines (even if they’re still smaller than the physical Bulldawgs up front). Simply put, they’ll need to make less mistakes than Las Cruces High and capitalize on virtually every offensive opportunity they get.

• On a roll: Ever since a 42-21 loss to No. 1-ranked Rio Rancho on Sept. 21, the Bulldawgs have been red-hot. Since then the following final scores have taken place in favor of LCHS: A 54-27 victory at Artesia; A 52-20 triumph over OƱate; The team mercy-ruled Gadsden by halftime, 50-0; And separate playoff wins, a 70-40 victory over Clovis in the quarterfinals round followed by a 55-28 win at Albuquerque Eldorado last weekend in the state semifinals. If the Bulldawgs keep this play going, the program’s seventh state football title — and first since 2008 — would seem very attainable.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

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