By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
The formations look the same, Melrose coach Dickie Roybal said, even if the personnel — and the team name — have changed.
The defending six-man state champion and top-seeded Buffaloes begin their title defense at 7 p.m. today contest against Roy-Wagon Mound at Melrose.
Roybal noted the last time his team played the Longhorns, it was simply Roy — and the Buffs ended the Longhorns’ 32-game winning streak and bid for a third consecutive state title with a 42-36 win in the 1999 state finals.
Roy combined forces with Wagon Mound in 2003, almost by necessity. Matthew Baca, in his 14th season as Longhorns coach, said this year’s squad has 11 players — five from Roy and six from Wagon Mound.
At 9-0 and rarely challenged during the regular season, Melrose appears to have a significant advantage. But Baca said the Longhorns (5-4), currently on a four-game winning streak, are happy for the opportunity.
“They’re real excited, real focused,” he said of his players. “We’ve improved quite a bit. We’re young, but I think it’s been a real success for us to get into the playoffs.
“We’re just going to go out and give it the best we can.”
Roybal said the Buffs have been battling through injuries and haven’t been at the top of their game. But they will regain the services of standout senior running back Carlos Ruiz, who was cleared to play this week after missing the past two games because of a heart murmur.
“We’ve got to get back in the swing of things,” Roybal said. “We’ve got to get back to the way we were playing before people got hurt.”
Baca said he knows the Longhorns have their work cut out.
“They’re very explosive,” he said of the Buffs. “They have the Ruiz kid that’s the best player in the state.
“Size-wise, I think we’re going to match up real well with them, but their speed and playoff experience is going to make it tough.”
If Melrose wins, Roybal said he expects to face district rival Logan in the semifinals, a game which would be played at Logan. Roybal said he thought Logan deserved higher than a No. 4 seed.
The state finals are on tap for the weekend of Nov. 11-12.
Roy-Wagon Mound at Melrose
When: 7 p.m. today
Records: Roy-Wagon Mound 5-4, Melrose 9-0.
Coaches: Roy-Wagon Mound, Matthew Baca; Melrose, Dickie Roybal.
Last meeting: 1999, the Buffs beat the two-time defending champion Roy 42-36 in the state finals at Melrose, ending the Longhorns’ 32-game winning streak.
Last week: Roy-Wagon Mound beat New Mexico School for the Deaf 54-43 at Santa Fe; Melrose won at Clovis Christian 64-16.
Roy-Wagon Mound players to watch: Jake Pendley, 5-9, 155, Sr., QB-DB; Nathan Gutierrez, 5-9, 160, Sr., RB-DB; Levi Shaw, 6-0, 175, So., OL-DB; Danny Laumbach, 6-0, 200, Jr., OL-DL; Brian Trufitt, 6-0, 180, Jr., WR-LB.
Quotable: “They’re loaded with athletes, even without him.” — Baca, on facing a Buffs team which has been without standout senior running back Carlos Ruiz for the past two weeks.