Lightning, then thunder, was the winning formula for Manzano on Friday night.
Austin Erickson scored three touchdowns early and Xavier Ivey-Saud shouldered the burden on the ground late as the No. 8 Monarchs defeated No. 9 Rio Rancho in a Class 6A first-round match-up at Wilson Stadium.
After Rio Rancho fumbled in Manzano territory on its first possession, the Monarchs marched down the field and took a 6-0 lead when Erickson scored on a 13-yard option pitch.
Following a Rams punt, Dakota Powell found Erickson for an 18-yard touchdown pass to put the Monarchs up 12-0.
Rio Rancho (4-7) cut the deficit to 12-7 when Isaiah Chavez hit Ethan Hampsten with a back-shoulder throw in the end zone from 10 yards out following a muffed punt by the Monarchs. The Rams had little time to enjoy the moment, though, as Powell connected with Erickson for a 68-yard score on first play of the Monarchs’ next drive.
“It was exciting to see him make those big plays tonight,” Manzano coach Phillip Martinez said of Erickson. “He’s been working hard and it’s been paying off.”
Powell finished with four touchdown passes on the night — two to Erickson and two to Jack Blankenship.
While the passing game was clicking, the Monarchs relied on Ivey-Saud to be their closer. The bruising senior running back finished with more than 200 yards on the night, including 51 on a back-breaking, third-quarter drive that concluded with a 10-yard Ivey-Saud run to put Manzano up 33-14.
“Our focus was blocking and tackling. The O-line did a great job blocking,” Martinez said. “That’s awesome for him to get that achievement (over 200 yards) and a credit to the O-line.”
The Rams and Monarchs had five common opponents this season: Both lost to top-3 seeds La Cueva, Centennial and Volcano Vista, plus No. 7 Las Cruces; both defeated No. 10 Clovis.
The Rams slipped to 4-7 all-time vs. the Monarchs, having last met them on Sept. 23, 2017, a 55-7 loss to the Monarchs, who went on to win the 6A championship.
In a 2016 semifinal at Rio Rancho, the Rams won, 35-7; earlier that season the Rams beat them 64-27 for a happy homecoming.
The teams met five seasons in a row (2005-09), when the Rams lost two of their three meetings at Wilson Stadium.
Basically, Friday’s game was a meeting of the 2016 and 2017 state champs, with the Monarchs under the helm of first-year coach Martinez, in the wake of former coach Chad Adcox’s unexpected retirement following the ’17 season.
With the victory, Manzano (7-4) advances to play top-seeded Cleveland Friday night at 7.
“Cleveland’s a great team,” Martinez said. “They’re well coached. They’re big and they play hard. They’re No. 1 for a reason. We’re excited for the opportunity to play them on their home field. Hopefully, we’ll give them a good game.”
The Storm received a first-round bye, as did No. 2 La Cueva (10-0), No. 3 Centennial (10-0) and No. 4 Volcano Vista (8-2).
In other first-round matchups (Friday), No. 11 Eldorado (7-4) won at No. 6 Hobbs (7-4), 28-14, and No. 12 Cibola (6-5) defeated No. 5 Mayfield (6-5) 14-7 at the Field of Dreams. No. 10 Clovis (4-6) was at No. 7 Las Cruces (6-4) Saturday afternoon at the Field of Dreams in Las Cruces.
The Storm and Monarchs had four common opponents this season: Both beat Eldorado, West Mesa and Rio Rancho; the Storm beat Volcano Vista 61-46 on Oct. 19, but the Hawks beat Manzano 29-20 on Sept. 14.
The Storm are 4-1 all-time vs. the Monarchs, including a pair of wins in their last two meetings, both in the Storm’s championship season of 2015: 53-0 in the season opener at CHS and then 50-7 in a quarterfinal matchup at Cleveland.
Manzano’s lone win over the Storm came on Oct. 1, 2010, a 28-24 Stormcoming loss at CHS. The Storm also won regular-season meetings in 2011 and ’14.
With a victory, the Storm will face a district opponent in the semifinals, facing the winner of the Volcano Vista-Cibola quarterfinal matchup. The Hawks beat the Cougars 35-21 on Nov,. 2, which gave VVHS second place in 1-5A.
This week’s other quarterfinal games are Eldorado at Centennial and the Clovis-Las Cruces winner at La Cueva. vs. Eldorado
Be sure to see a special feature on Cleveland High’s “process,” which coach Heath Ridenour credits for his team’s success on the field. You’ll find it only in the Nov. 11 issue of the Rio Rancho Observer.