By ERIC MADDY
The Cleveland High football team stormed into its bye week and closed out its non-district schedule Friday night by beating perennial small-school powerhouse Artesia 49-14.
Cleveland now gets 10 days off before opening district 1-6A play against Atrisco Heritage on Thursday, Oct. 4.The Storm, 5–0, jumped out to the lead just three plays into the game and never looked back.
Across town, Rio Rancho High also closed its non-district schedule and gets next week off. But the similarities end there.
Albuquerque La Cueva held off the Rams 23-18 on Friday, as Rio Rancho dropped to 1-4. Perhaps even worse, RRHS has dropped all three of its home games.
The Rams get even more time off than their archrivals. Rio Rancho opens 1-6A play against Albuquerque Cibola on Saturday, Oct. 6 at 1 PM.
Both Cleveland and Rio Rancho will play their next games at Community Stadium in Albuquerque.
Despite the quick start, Cleveland led just 28-14 after a scoreless third quarter. But the Storm put the game away early in the final period, scoring three touchdowns in the span of 3:27 to increase the margin to 35 and enact a running clock under the “mercy rule.”
Junior tailback Darian Lewis had another monster game, rushing for 203 yards on 19 carries and scoring four touchdowns on runs of 16, 15, 31 and 10 yards.
He has gained more than 1,100 yards already this year.
“I’m really pleased with the way we performed tonight,” Cleveland head coach Heath Ridenour said. “Artesia’s a good program. They’ve got good coaches. They’ve got a good community. They’re going to play hard every time and for us to come out and play the way we did …
“It was still a hard-fought battle. It just kind of snowballed there at the end, and we made some big plays.”
As great as Lewis was, it was actually sophomore quarterback Jeff Davison who got the Storm on the board first, racing home on a 57-yard touchdown run just 37 seconds into the game. He also threw a 39-yard scoring pass to Randy Nieto in the second quarter.
When Lewis ended the second Storm drive with his first TD run, it looked for a moment like the mercy rule might kick in quickly. But Artesia stayed in the game by moving well offensively, only to sputter out when it appeared like it was ready to score.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over on downs four times, including three opportunities in Cleveland territory.
“It was definitely a case of missed opportunities,” Artesia head coach Rex Henderson said. “It was 28-14 the entire third quarter, then we had a bad span where we gave up 21 points real fast. Each area of the game took their turn (making mistakes).
“We did what we wanted to and what we thought we could do to keep it close,” Henderson said. “We moved the ball, but we missed some opportunities in the red zone. And then let it get out of hand a little bit in the fourth quarter.”
Those fourth-down stops were important to Ridenour.
“That was our problem last week against (Las Cruces) Mayfield,” he said. “We couldn’t get off the field on critical downs defensively and we had two turnovers in the red zone. And we didn’t get it in from the one tonight (on a third-quarter drive).
“We’re still growing. There’s still a lot for us to do, but I can see the progress. I can see the steps being taken. For being Week 5, I’m proud of where we’re at.”
Unofficially, Artesia had 373 yards in total offense. The Bulldogs attempted only two punts, the latter of which was blocked by Cleveland and recovered in the end zone by Darian Lowery.
Artesia quarterback Clay Houghtaling threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns, but it was not enough to stand up to Cleveland. Led by Lewis, the Storm amassed 421 yards in offense, including 308 rushing.
Artesia has a staggering 30 state titles in 60 years, getting its first in 1957 and its latest last year. Henderson, a third-generation Bulldog coach, had come close to beating Cleveland the past two years, falling 42-28 in 2016 and 556-49 last year.
Asked to assess this year’s Storm squad, he shook his head in admiration.
“They are just so athletic,” he said. “They’re really athletic, and they’re really tough.”
Now the athletic, tough Storm squad gets a little break. Many coaches riding a five-game winning streak wouldn’t want any time off, but not Ridenour.
“The bye comes at a good time for us,” he said. “We need to go back to the basics – tackling, running, being quick on our feet and understanding how to practice and how to be hungry.”
CLEVELAND 49, ARTESIA 14
Artesia………..0…14….0….0 — 14
Cleveland …14…14… 0…21 — 49
Cleveland, 11:23 – Jeff Davison 57 run (William Gebhardt kick).
Cleveland, 3:34 – Dorian Lewis 16 run (Gebhardt kick).
Artesia, 10:42 — Alex Fernandez 3 pass from Clay Houghtaling (Favian Carrasco kick).
Cleveland, 8:11 — Lewis 15 run (Gebhardt kick).
Cleveland, 6:02 — Randy Nieto 39 pass from Davison (Gebhardt kick).
Artesia, 2:30 — Jagger Donaghe 41 pass from Houghtaling (Carrasco kick).
Cleveland, 11:52 — Lewis 31 run (Gebhardt kick).
Cleveland, 10:09 — Darian Lowery recovers blocked punt in end zone (Gebhardt kick).
Cleveland, 8:25 — Lewis 10 run (Gebhardt kick).
First downs: Artesia 19; Cleveland 18.
Rushes-yards: Artesia 28-134; Cleveland 36-308.
Passing: Artesia 23-31-1—239; Cleveland 7-10-0—113.
Total offense: Artesia 373; Cleveland 421.
Punts-avg.: Artesia 1-21.0; Cleveland 1-31.0.
Fumbles-lost: Artesia 1-1; Cleveland 0-0.
Penalties-yards: Artesia 2-10; Cleveland 3-25.