Onate making its mark in 5A

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent

Just three years ago, Onate High in Las Cruces won a state football championship, beating Roswell Goddard in the finals … in Class 4A.

This fall, increasing enrollment pushed the Knights into Class 5A, where they’ve already earned respect as one of the state’s elite in any classification.

“They played Cruces High and Mayfield, us and Hobbs — they played a 5A schedule — before they moved up, so it wasn’t anything new for them,” Alamogordo coach Bruce Dollar said. “Plus, it helps anytime you win a championship, because then you have some tradition there and the kids have a lot of confidence in the schemes that they run. That makes all the difference in the world.”

Onate hosts Clovis in a semifinal playoff game on Saturday, and other coaches in Onate’s District 3-5A say the Wildcats could have their hands full.

The Knights, as they have been throughout Kelly McKee’s tenure as head coach, are decidedly a run-first offense. Although quarterback Steven Wells has thrown 69 passes, his strength is running the option.

Wells has a major weapon in Division I recruit C.J. Oakley, who started the season at wide receiver but quickly moved into the running back position for the bulk of his senior year.
Oakley has run for more than 1,800 yards this season.

“They should match up pretty well,” Las Cruces High coach Jim Miller said. “Clovis is the bigger, more physical football team. But Kelly has never played Clovis before and it’s a little different for a team not used to facing (Onate’s) offense. So I think Kelly has an advantage on that.”

Miller likened the Knights’ offense to the one utilized by the Air Force Academy on the college level.

“We’re familiar with them because we play them every year, so we pretty much know the premise of their offense,” Miller said. “It’s a responsibility-type defense you have to play, where you take dive, you take the quarterback, you got to take the pitch. I think that’s going to be sort of a challenge.”

On defense, Onate switched this year from a four-man front to one featuring three down linemen and five linebackers. The strength of the Knights’ defense may be a linebacking corps which isn’t very big but is quick to the ball.

“They’re really, really good with their run defense,” Dollar said. “We had a 1,900-yard rusher and a 1,200-yard rusher and they pretty much held us in check.”