Who else? Melrose, Gateway face off for 8-man crown

By Dave Wagner
SPORTS WRITER
dwagner@cnjonline.com
Since squaring off in the season opener on a neutral field, Melrose and Gateway Christian have stayed on course for a return match in the 8-man state finals.

That will happen on Saturday, when the top-ranked Warriors (11-0) host the two-time defending 8-man champion and second-ranked Buffaloes (10-1) in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Roswell. It’s also a rematch of last year’s title tilt, when the Buffs outlasted Gateway 30-28 at Melrose.

Gateway won the late August matchup at Cloudcroft 30-20. Since then, the Warriors have had three relatively close calls — two against Mesilla Valley, including last week’s 55-48 semifinal win —  while the Buffs have had only one game closer than 26 points.

Neither of these teams is exactly a stranger to 8-man championships. Since the class was added in 2006, Melrose has won five of the 10 state championships while the Warriors have won four, with each beating the other once in the finals.

Mountainair took the title in 2007, topping Animas in the finals.

The Buffs, seeking a second three-peat in 8-man (2008-10), lost six seniors from last year’s team while standout sophomore Cade Barnard transferred to Texas Class 4A Seminole.

“The kids have done a good job,” coach Dickie Roybal said. “A lot of people wrote us off early because we lost Cade and the seniors.”

Junior quarterback Justin Reynolds started in last year’s title game for the Warriors and gave Melrose problems.
“He throws the ball well, and he runs hard,” Roybal said. “And he’s got some big linemen to block for him.
“They’re undefeated for a reason. They’re a good football team.”

Other top players for Gateway include senior running back David Garcia , junior receiver Ramiro Grajeda and sophomore receiver Jaydon Stephens.

Melrose is coming off a 52-26 semifinal win at No. 3 Magdalena in which the Buffs outscored the Steers 24-0 in the fourth quarter.

“It was a good game for us,” Roybal said. “We had to work at stopping them.”

Texas Class 3A Division I — Muleshoe has taken two steps in the six-round playoffs. The third one figures to be pretty steep.
The Mules (8-4) face top-ranked defending 3A-I champion Brock in a 7 p.m. (CST) clash tonight at Vernon. The Eagles (12-0), in just their fourth full season of football, come in with a 28-game winning streak and have won 48 of 51 contests since the start of the 2013 season.

“They’re better than they were last year,” Muleshoe coach David Wood said. “But we’ll be ready for them. We’ll go in like we do every ballgame and feel we can be competitive.”

Sophomore quarterback Tripp Jones isn’t flashy, but Wood said that it isn’t a necessity. The Eagles have quality backs to get the ball to in seniors Zane Young and Tyler Gray and junior Matt Gray.

While the Mules are averaging more than 43 points a game, the Eagles are at better than 52. Brock, the District 4 champion, is coming off a 62-6 drubbing of 3A-1 champion Amarillo River Road, Muleshoe’s district rival.

“What we do and what River Road does is completely different,” Wood said. “We have to match (the Eagles’) scoring. We know they’re going to score a lot of points, so we’re going to have to score a lot of points.”

The winner advances to a quarterfinal game next week against the winner between Littlefield (9-3) and Wall (9-3), who play tonight at Odessa.