East Mountain resident Austin Erickson caught a pair of touchdown passes in Manzano High School’s Aug. 23 season opener, but it wasn’t enough as the Monarchs came up short against the visiting Las Cruces Bulldawgs 55-27 at Albuquerque’s Wilson Stadium.

It was the second consecutive year the Monarchs dropped their season opener to the Bulldawgs.

“We’re a young team and I think our youthfulness and immaturity showed tonight,” Manzano head coach Phillip Martinez said. “Hopefully as the season goes by our guys will mature and we’ll get better.”

The Bulldawgs set the tone early as they scored on their opening drive to stake a 7-0 lead.

Manzano answered when quarterback Jace Melfi bolted 80 yards for a touchdown to tie the game 7-7.

“We’re excited about Jace,” Martinez said. “This was his first varsity start at QB and he really is a true dual threat—he can run and throw.”

Las Cruces scored on its second possession and Manzano responded with a 47-yard TD run by Isaiah Hernandez, but the Monarchs missed the extra point and settled for a 14-13 deficit.

Three plays later, the Bulldawgs threw a touchdown pass to push ahead 21-13 at the end of the first quarter.

Las Cruces scored two touchdowns in the second quarter to extend its lead to 35-13 before Melfi tossed a 44-yard strike to Erickson in the end zone to cut the margin to 35-20 with 4:18 left in the first half.

The heat may have gotten to Erickson on the play because he hobbled off the field gasping for breath and immediately dropped to his knees on the sidelines.

“It was a little scary, I couldn’t breathe for like 10 seconds,” Erickson said.

Las Cruces scored again to take a 41-20 advantage at halftime.

The Bulldawgs added two more TDs in the fourth quarter before Erickson caught his second touchdown pass.

On first down at the Monarchs 20-yard line, Melfi rolled out and lofted a pass to Erickson near midfield.

Erickson caught the ball backpedaling, turned and outran a pair of Las Cruces defenders to the end zone for an 80-yard catch-and-run TD with 3:28 left in the game.

“Our quarterback scrambled a little bit, I was behind the defense, and he threw a great ball and I was there to make the play and it worked out well,” Erickson said, adding, “It was a tough loss but we have to try and bounce back.”

Erickson had five receptions for 195 yards. He had 43 yards rushing on five carries.

Melfi completed 7 of 17 for 205 yards and two touchdowns passing. He ran for 103 yards with one touchdown rushing.

The Monarchs will look to rebound Aug. 30 when they host the Rio Grande Ravens at Wilson Stadium.