Sunday, November 6, 2011

Not-so-quick hits from Week 11 in Lea County Football

Clayton Jones/News-Sun
Jal's Saxxon Artalejo breaks free against Capitan on Saturday in Jal.
  While seedings came out for the larger schools and Hobbs got spanked, I have to start with the game I was at Saturday – Jal's 27-21 overtime win over Capitan in the Class 1A state quarterfinals.
  To back track, when two-a-days started in August I went out to Jal on the second day of workouts. There were 15 Panthers total out for football. That's it. In my mind I thought, "I don't care how good Saxxon Artalejo and Malik Anderson are, Jal may win only one or two games this season and will probably miss the playoffs."
  When the Panthers started the season 0-4, I thought my preseason thoughts were coming to fruition.
  But the funny thing about Jal was, it kept getting better and better.
  Four wins later, the Panthers went into their matchup with Class 1A powerhouse and top-ranked Fort Sumner at 4-4 heading into its last week of the season. Jal gave Fort Sumner a game, but couldn't get over the hump offensively, losing 24-8.
  Saturday the Panthers started the game against Capitan as that 0-4 team. Jal couldn't stop the Tigers' double-wing offense and couldn't move the football as Capitan took a 14-0 lead.
  But big players make big plays and Saxxon Artalejo hit Malik Anderson on a slant for that the speedy Anderson turned into a 70-yard touchdown to cut the lead in half.
  It was the start of the Panthers' resurgence as an improved defensive effort combined with quick striking drives for Jal – all four touchdown drives were three plays or less – led to Jal coming back for the win.
  Anderson, who had a touchdown called back when he was called for taunting while entering the end zone (which I didn't see ... personally thought it was a tough call, particularly for a playoff game), finished with 241 yards of offense – 162 rushing and 79 receiving – three total touchdowns, a kicked extra point and a two-point conversion.
  – On the other end of the spectrum on my weekend of covering football, I watched Hobbs end the season on a 50-0 mercy-rule loss to Carlsbad on Friday in Carlsbad. It was tough to watch, to be honest. Blown coverages, inexperienced mistakes, not paying attention to detail and a myriad of other issues. The Eagles just had the look of a team that was ready for the season to end (despite a win giving them a chance at a playoff spot).
  Who is to blame for a 2-8 season? I don't think any one person is at fault. The coaching staff shoulders some of the blame, but in Hobbs it's deeper than that. Getting rid of coaches has been the easy answer too long in Hobbs. At some point, the problem isn't coaching.
  Hobbs has a coach in place in Bruce Dollar that has won a small school state title, brought an Alamogordo program from the gutter to the 5A state title game just five years ago, led Hobbs to its only playoff win since 1982 and, prior to losing a lot of talent heading into this season, produced two of the most prolific offensive teams the program has ever had in three seasons. Having talked to him several times about the big picture of the program, I can assure you he wants to more than anybody else give the Hobbs community a successful football team.
  An issue in Hobbs, other than the talent being a bit down this season, is understanding what it takes to be a successful program. Mainly, this program lacks true support and a sense of cohesiveness. Yes, people donate time and money toward the program but it is all undermined when folks publicly criticize the coaches at games and, more importantly, privately with players. These things don't happen with such regularity at successful programs. It creates a disconnect with the team – which can be an issue already when a coach is trying to get 50-plus teenagers moving toward one goal.
  In short, everyone needs to get on the same page in Hobbs for success to occur. Egos must be set aside.
  – Tatum pulled out an 18-8 win this week in the quarterfinal of the 8-man playoffs over Logan. The Coyotes have been led by their defense and the running of Timmy Pearce for much of the season and the recipe was the same Friday night. The Coyotes now get another chance at top-ranked Melrose, who beat them earlier this season.
  – Seedings came out for 2A through 5A Saturday and Lovington, the top-ranked team in 3A for 33 straight coaches polls and the two-time defending champion who sports a modest 6-4 record, got the No. 3 seed (losses to Goddard, Artesia, Andrews and Fort Stockton - two Texas 3A teams that would spank any team in 3A New Mexico).
  It's the first time since 2006 the Wildcats haven't been seeded No. 1, and while I see how the committee could seed an undefeated St. Michael's and one-loss Silver ahead of Lovington, I'm just not sure if the rest of 3A wants Lovington to have a little more motivation then it already has.
  In 2A, Eunice to nobody's surprise got the top seed. Somewhat surprising was who the Cardinals will play as they face No. 8 Tucumcari 7 p.m. Friday at Cardinal Stadium (a team they beat 60-30 earlier this season). Tucumcari deserved a better seed than this and probably isn't too pleased to run into Eunice again.
  As for the rest of the brackets, no big surprises. Cleveland, Mayfield, Manzano and Las Cruces got the top four seeds in 5A while Goddard, Aztec, Valencia and Artesia got the top four seeds in 4A.
  State playoff brackets can be found here.