Who: No. 10 NMMI (6-4) at No. 7 Hatch Valley (5-5)
What: Opening round football game of the NMAA Class 3A State Playoffs
Where: Hatch Valley Bear Stadium
When: Kickoff at 1:00 PM on Saturday, Nov. 10
Coaches: NMMI head coach Randy Montoya, eighth year (35-49); Hatch head coach Louis Howell, second year (13-10)
Last meeting: opening round of the 2016 playoffs – Hatch won at home 64-42
Season points for and against: NMMI PF (184) PA (218); Hatch PF (173) PA (190)
NMMI head coach Randy NMMI and his Colt football team are back in the playoffs for their fifth time in six years.
This season the Colts have put together a solid 6-4 overall record, earning the No. 10 seed in the twelve-team NMAA Class 3A State Championship bracket. They’ll face the No. 7 Hatch Valley Bears, on the road, on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 1:00 PM.
“I think the seeding was just about right,” said coach Montoya about the Class 3A bracket, “that’s just where we had our team placed as well.”
This will be the third match-up in the opening round of state between Colts and Bears, with Hatch taking both previous contests on their home turf: 64-42 in 2016,and 27-10 in 2014.
“We’ve got a tough opponent – seems like the past two or three years that we’ve gone to the playoffs, we’ve been in Hatch. So we’re familiar with the area,” continued Montoya. “They’ve got a good team; I think we’ve got a good team; so should be a good showdown.”
NMMI is coming off a big road win against district opponent Tucumcari where the Colt offense produced 43 points and broke open big holes for senior backs Jalil Brown and Charles Lewis, who combined for 275 yards on just 19 carries.
“I think it was important to get back on that winning track,” emphasized Montoya. “That helped build the confidence of our kids, and made us realize that we still are a good team despite the ups and downs that all teams tend to have over the course of a season. It gives us some momentum going into the playoffs.”
The Hatch Valley Bear offense runs multiple formations to throw teams off guard, and they do a good job at it.
“Our defense is going to have to recognize those formations in order to stop them,” said Montoya.
Defensively, the Bears run a flex nose - sort of a “difference between a 5-2 and a 5-3.” said the NMMI coach. “Their front line is solid with a nose guard that is really tough and linebackers that flow really well. It will be a good test for our O-line.”
The Colt offense has amassed 2,025 total yards of offense this season and a 4.2-yard average per play, thanks to a quartet of excellent rushers in the backfield.
Tailback Brown leads the running attack with 650 yards on 79 carries; halfback Lewis has 550 yards on 85 attempts; fullback Gus Curnutt pounded out 279 yards on 64 chances; and quarterback Jasper Best has scrambled for 222 yards on 82 rushes.
“Without having a quarterback, we’ve been having to switch things up on offense these past few weeks, said Montoya about his own offensive unit and game plan. “But we’ll show multiple fronts, see if we can take advantage of anything they’ll give us on defense.”
The Colt defense is led by linebacker Arturo Cuen’s 46 tackles and Roberto Laporte’s four sacks.
NMMI typically runs a split 4-4. “We’ll mix things up with our split,” said Montoya, “try and run some blitzes and see what we can do depending on the formations they come out in.”
When asked about the keys to the game, coach Montoya stressed the turnover factor.
“In big games like this, we’ve got to take care of the ball – turnovers are going to be huge. And again, recognizing formations: lining up correctly so that we don’t get out leveraged. We also need all three aspects of the game to play well: the offense needs to take care of the ball, the defense needs to be aggressive, and the special teams can’t take any plays off.”
“We’re excited about this opportunity, hoping to do something that hasn’t been done around here in about 14 years – that’s win a playoff game. That’s what we’re shooting for,” finished the coach. “We’ve have a good week in practice, so I think we’re up for the challenge.”