The Class 6A football playoff quarterfinals are upon us, and on Friday night, we take you out to Lightning Bolt Stadium on the campus of Cleveland High School, when the one-seeded Storm host the eighth-seeded Manzano Monarchs for a shot at the semifinals of the playoffs.
Manzano is fresh off of their 40-14 first-round win against the Rio Rancho Rams, a game where the Monarchs’ offense thrived on the passing game. “Without a doubt, it’s going to be the toughest challenge we’ve had all year,” Manzano head coach Phillip Martinez said about this upcoming game with the Storm. “We’re really just trying to focus on communicating on defense, they have a couple of formations that can give us some problems, and offensive(ly), recognizing the front they are in.” Winners now of five straight, the Monarchs are gaining momentum considerably heading into this pivotal matchup.
The Monarchs will look to keep that up in this game with Cleveland, and they have just the quarterback and receivers to do that. At quarterback is Dakota Powell, who finished 14-22 for 219 yards and four touchdowns last week.
Xavier Ivey-Saud anchors the running game for the Monarchs, rushing for 205 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Ivey-Saud said he believes his coaches will attack what gameplan is working the most, saying, “…if the passing is there, then we’ll attack it to open up the run and vice versa.” Jack Blankenship and Austin Erickson are the dynamic duo at the receiver spot, combining for 205 of Powell’s 219 yards last week and grabbed all four touchdowns. Now, the big question is, will Manzano continue to go with their passing attack, or will they flip the script, and utilize the running game more? Coach Martinez says they want to go 50/50 with both games.
“Our goal going into each game is try to be 50/50 as much as possible, 50% run and 50% pass,” Martinez added. “We can’t be perfect all the time getting those numbers, but we try to be balanced enough to keep defenses on us.”
The Cleveland Storm, fresh off of the bye week, capped off their undefeated season two weeks ago with a dominant 42-7 win against their cross-town rival Rio Rancho. The win officially gave the Storm the District 1/6A championship. “I like to watch a lot of film, so I’ve been drowning myself in film the past couple of weeks,” said Heath Ridenour, Cleveland’s head coach, about the upcoming game as well. “We kind of thought it was going to be Manzano, so I’ve been preparing for them for a couple of weeks, and the first thing I did was study up and see what’s making them so successful.”
The biggest story of the year to come from the Storm program is their star running-back, Dorian Lewis, but unfortunately, Lewis’ miracle run was derailed Week 9 when he suffered a season-ending injury against West Mesa. Before his injury, Lewis carried for 1,583 yards and 20 touchdowns on the season.
“Dorian’s what everybody sees. He’s a great football player, and the guy’s an even better person, and that’s what so heartbreaking about his situation,” Ridenour had to say about Lewis. “But no one player is bigger than our team, and I think our kids really bought into that. And they understand that we lost a good player there, but the value of our team and the way we play, we’re gonna be just fine.”
Even without Lewis, Cleveland’s offense has been strong all season long, with Jeff Davison taking the reigns at quarterback. So far this season, Davison has thrown for 1,815 yards and 23 touchdowns. “The keys to get prepared for a good Manzano team is all built in with a good week of practice,” said Davison about the upcoming game. “If we win, it’s because the whole team helped out and do what we need(ed) to do.” Catching Davison’s passes this season has mainly been Tre Watson, Randy Nieto, and Braedin Ross. The three receivers combined for 1,434 yards and 17 touchdowns. “If we can really contain their running back, and if we can block that front seven (of Manzano), I think we’re all set out for the night,” Watson said. Filling in Lewis’ role for the Storm is the junior, Colten Madison, who has rushed for 325 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.
Coach Ridenour knows the kind of challenge that Manzano can pose to his team, and is ready for that challenge on Friday night. “They’re not a one-dimensional team, they’ve been heavy-run throughout the season, but they’ve always had the ability to pass,” he added. “We gotta be balanced defensively and be able to stop the run, first and foremost, then we gotta make some plays back there in the secondary.”
Scott Galetti and Coach David Williams will have your call starting at 6:15 pm with the pregame show at the conclusion of the Jim Villanucci Show.