La Cueva’s defense bends, then responds
11/23/2017 TBA
As the last 18 teams of the season head to Thanksgiving weekend, need to tie up some loose ends from quarterfinal weekend in the high school football playoffs:

ALL IT TAKES IS ONE: Yes, the La Cueva defense showed some cracks in the foundation in that memorable 38-35 win over Eldorado. And yes, the Bears were roasted for nearly the entire first two quarters by the Eagles, who for the most part flourished by running straight ahead at La Cueva, thus largely negating that terrific defensive team speed. But fair is fair. La Cueva’s defense also summoned what was probably the most important play of the entire game. (I wish I had had the time and breadth to address this in my game story the other night, but had to wait, given the space needed to explain).It was a first down for Eldorado from the La Cueva 4, with the Eagles holding a precarious 28-21 lead. The Bears had struck for two quick touchdowns to open the second half, cutting a 21-point deficit down to seven.

Now Eldorado was on the verge of re-establishing that two-touchdown cushion and pumping the brakes on that surging momentum of the Bears.

Then La Cueva linebacker Derek Loidolt made the defensive play of the year for his team.

He forced a fumble from Eagles running back Richard Gallegos — who had an  otherwise excellent game — on that first-down run, and the ball squirted forward into the end zone, where it was recovered by La Cueva’s Blaine Smith.

“I came from behind him,” Loidolt said. “I shot my hands through his hips, and it poked the ball out just enough.”

That was an almost certain seven points off the board for Eldorado.

Then La Cueva went 80 yards the other way, a drive that ended with a fourth-down touchdown pass from Dylan Summer to Reece Wilkinson that tied the game at 28.

That 14-point swing was probably the difference between La Cueva playing Cleveland this week instead of Eldorado.

“It was just … I don’t know,” Loidolt said after the game. “I don’t even know what to say. It was needed.”

SUMMERTIME? Three of the four starting quarterbacks among the 6A quarterfinal winners left their games on Friday — two of them briefly, one of them altogether.

While Jordan Byrd of Manzano and Payton Ball of Las Cruces made quick returns — and they’re on track to face each other Friday night at the Field of Dreams — Dylan Summer of La Cueva is another story.

He hobbled out of Nusenda Community Stadium on crutches Friday night, having injured his right knee during an 18-yard scramble early in the fourth quarter. He said he heard it pop.

Bears coach Brandon Back on Monday afternoon said there was still no update on Summer’s condition, or his availability to face Cleveland.

If Summer were to miss this game, the Bears would have an extraordinary dilemma on their hands at the worst possible time.

Wilkinson — La Cueva’s top wide receiver and one of the best at his position in the state — was the first person to take over when Summer left, and Wilkinson supplied some nice runs late in the game against Eldorado.

Sophomore Austin Smith, however, threw the two most important passes Friday night, and perhaps he may be in line to start against the Storm if Summer is a no-go. Which would add more burden than ever to that La Cueva defense.

CHALK TALK: This year is the first since 2013 in which three of the four classes between 3A and 6A advanced all four top seeds to the semifinals. In both years, it was 6A, 5A and 3A going chalk.

St. Michael’s loss in the 4A quarters was a shocking one to Hatch Valley, as the Horsemen were the only team unable to protect their home field. It was the second time in five seasons the Horsemen opened the playoffs as a No. 1 seed only to get beaten at home in the quarterfinals.

For Hatch, the Bears are not unaccustomed to upsetting a No. 1 team as a No. 8 seed; they did the same to Robertson in 2014.

HAVE NO. 1 SEED, WILL TRAVEL: In an oddity, the remaining No. 1 seeds — Manzano, Artesia in 5A, Eunice in 3A and Melrose (8-Man) — will all be traveling this upcoming weekend.

The Monarchs are at Las Cruces, the Bulldogs visit Farmington, Eunice visits Estancia and the undefeated Buffaloes are at Mountainair in the 8-Man final.


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