The Las Cruces Bulldawgs celebrate their 2012 State Football Championship.LAS CRUCES ? Earlier this month the Las Cruces High football team won their seventh state championship in program history - the Bulldawgs' fifth under head coach Jim Miller.
"Times have changed and as coaches, we have to change," said Miller, whose 2012 team finished the season 11-1. "I'm a father figure to a lot of these kids now."
Las Cruces won its first state championship since 2008, beating Sandia 35-28 on Dec. 7 in Albuquerque.
"They wanted it so much at the beginning of the year," Miller said. "Doing what they did against a great Sandia football team, it shows a lot of character from these seniors."
The Bulldawgs were led by senior quarterback Jonathan Joy, who accounted for four touchdowns against Sandia. The Bulldawgs needed everyone however, as Sandia stormed back after trailing 21-0.
"We looked up, we had eight minutes left to pound the ball and let the clock run out," said tight end Kamryn Dixon. "We got in the huddle and coach has been preaching it to us all year: One heartbeat. It paid off."
Las Cruces High's lone loss of the season came in September on the road to Rio Rancho. The Bulldawgs ended the regular season with a 36-13 victory over Mayfield to win their 10th district championship.
As the year went on, and Joy became more comfortable, the Bulldawgs were unstoppable offensively. Las Cruces put 70 points up on Clovis in the quarterfinals and scored 55 points against Eldorado in the semifinals.
"The only time we've hurt ourselves iswith our own mistakes," Las Cruces tight end Sam Denmark said. "If we all execute we know nothing can stop us. The only thing that can stop us is ourselves."
Miller improved to 5-0 in state championship games, keeping the Bulldawgs on track after entering the season as one of few favorites.
New Mexico's state playoff system is set up where after the first round, teams owe one another based on playoff history. For teams who have had success in the past, it causes the playoff road to be that much more difficult to win a title. Las Cruces was on the road for two of its three title games, making the 2012 title that much more difficult but perhaps the road will be easier next time the Bulldawgs contend.
Jason Groves can be reached at (575) 541-5459. Follow him on Twitter @jpgroves