La Cueva survives another thriller into final
11/25/2017 6:41 PM

La Cueva head football coach Brandon Back wouldn’t mind if his team opted for a less dramatic route to victory at some point in these Class 6A playoffs, but if the results keep coming the way they do, he can live with a little extra excitement.

Sophomore quarterback Austin Smith found senior wideout Grant Giesler on a fade route in the corner of the end zone on third-and-goal from the 7 to give the second-seeded Bears a scintillating 37-34 overtime victory against third-seeded Cleveland in a Class 6A semifinal on Friday night at Wilson Stadium.

The victory came one week after La Cueva rallied from a 28-7 halftime deficit against Eldorado for a 38-35 quarterfinal victory.

“The first thing is we won, and that’s really all that matters at this point. Our defense made plays at the end of the fourth quarter and they made plays in overtime. It was just a battle,” Back said. “We’ve been in these games before. I’d really like not to be in one of these games one time and win with more cushion in the playoffs.

“Hey, we’re in the state championship and we’ll take that. It was a great win for our boys. Our seniors have been working so hard. To be able to get down there and finish it like they did, it’s been one hell of a ride.”

La Cueva plays Manzano on Dec. 2, 1 p.m. at Wilson Stadium for the championship.

Smith wasn’t even supposed to be in this position, but he was pressed into platoon duty with Reece Wilkinson under center after staring quarterback Dylan Summer injured his knee on a scramble against Eldorado. Prior to the decisive moment, it had been a relatively quiet outing for Smith, as it was Wilkinson, who had made the more impactful plays.

But when it mattered, Smith was able to put ball up for grabs in the right corner of the end zone for Giesler, who outfought a Cleveland defender for the ball to set off a wild celebration on the La Cueva side of the field.

“We’ve been executing that fade ball all week in practice with Grant Giesler and it’s all the coaches,” Smith said. “They put me in that situation and I just executed.”

The 6-foot-3 Giesler deserves plenty of credit for making his second catch of the game, this one with a high degree of difficulty.

“I saw it was underthrown. I kind of pulled my man back and just went for it,” Giesler said. “I ended up with it. It was unreal. The best experience of my life for sure.”

As mentioned by Back, the La Cueva defense played no small role in the victory. In a game that went back-and-forth for four quarters, there was no play more integral to keeping the Bears’ season alive than the one made by senior safety Hunter Cardiff with Cleveland on the verge of icing a victory.

Trailing 31-24, the Bears elected to punt on fourth-and-9 at their 45 with less than three minutes remaining, and Dominic Camacho’s kick pinned the Storm on the Cleveland 1-yard line.

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