Wednesday, December 4, 2013

State Football Championship: What to watch for

There is truly nothing quite like it: the State Football Championship, played between the two teams in the state’s top rivals — No. 2-seed Mayfield and No. 4-seed Las Cruces High. These two clubs met two weeks ago, with the Trojans topping the Bulldawgs, 28-20, in a certified upset. They now meet again, this time with a state title on the line. Here, we take a look at key factors to watch for entering Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff at Aggie Memorial Stadium:

• Bulldawgs offense: It starts up front for the Bulldawgs, who need to get the ground game going and take the pressure off sophomore quarterback Kamryn Miller. The Trojans did a good job neutralizing the Bulldawgs’ running attack and putting the contest in Miller’s hands the last time these two teams met in early November. Miller, in turn, struggled to take advantage. If Mayfield can do the same thing Saturday — contain the LCHS rushing attack — the Bulldawgs will still get their opportunities in the passing game. In turn, the Bulldawgs must capitalize. For Las Cruces High in general, an improved offensive performance across the board — blocking between the tackles, generating a ground game and throwing the football effectively when opportunities arise — will be imperative.

• Offensive consistency: This goes for both teams. Realistically, the last time these two met, it worked out perfectly for the Trojans: a 28-20 Mayfield victory, that saw the Bulldawgs score their lowest point total of the year. Truth be told, Las Cruces High could score 40, 50 or 60 points in any given contest and few would blink an eye. In other words, Mayfield must find a way to keep the Bulldawgs’ offense in check once again. In terms of the Trojans’ attack, quarterback Kavika Johnson was a one-man wrecking crew the last time these teams met and is a highlight waiting to happen — a difference maker with the ball in his hands. Mayfield’s offense seems at its best when kept simple: a heavy run game with Johnson and the team’s backs, which sets up play-action passing for the junior signal caller.

• Fundamental Trojans: In the last meeting against LCHS, Mayfield didn’t turn the ball over — and hasn’t done so ever since during its state playoff run. The Trojans have also improved on their penalty problems over the course of the year. In general, the team’s been winning by playing mistake-free football. That trend will need to continue Saturday against a strong LCHS team looking to bounce back from the last time these two rivals squared off. Make no mistake, the deck is still stacked against the Trojans in this rivalry matchup. They can’t afford to give away opportunities against the Bulldawgs.

• Fluke or fact?: When these two teams met in early November, it was the only time Las Cruces High looked mortal all season. Was it a matchup issue — namely, the Trojans’ personnel and scheme simply matching up exceedingly well with their crosstown rival? Or did Las Cruces High not play a good game — flat and overconfident after rolling opposing teams for much of the year? What adjustments will both clubs make? And can the Trojans replicate such an outstanding effort for the second time this year? Tough questions to answer today. Yet ones that will be further crystallized during and following Saturday’s title tilt.

• One of a kind: This rivalry is like none other, and it will be significantly amplified Saturday in front of 25,000 to 30,000 fans with state supremacy on the line. The atmosphere will be like none other, with all eyes on 17- and 18-year-old athletes laying it on the line. Considering that, this is truly a contest that’s impossible to predict and one that will be a must-see event. While on paper Las Cruces High likely remains the favorite, anything can happen in this high-octane rivalry, particularly with respective seasons on the line.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

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