Portales junior Kaleb Aguirre wraps up Raton RB Jacob Roper in the third quarter of Friday’s Class 3A first-round playoff game. (Freedom Newspapers: Kevin Wilson)
By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
RATON — Raton, which knocked Portales from the ranks of the undefeated in the third week of the season, knocked the Rams out of the playoffs by holding off a second-half rally for a 15-7 win Friday night at Tiger Stadium.
Portales, which ended the season with a nine-game losing streak, first ran into trouble during the season when the Tigers came to Greyhound Stadium and used big plays for a 28-8 victory.
In an elimination situation, the Rams (2-9) were markedly better in holding the host Tigers to 266 yards of offense — but 83 of them came on a scoring pass from Robby Armijo to James McElroy, which turned out to be the game-winning score.
“Going into the ballgame, we knew we had to stop the big play,” Portales coach Glenn Johnson said. “We had to make them earn everything they got. They only got one big play, but that play was a major impact on the ballgame.”
The touchdown gave sixth-seeded Raton a 12-0 lead midway through the first half — the Tigers had scored previously on a 15-yard run by Armijo to cap a 10-play drive.
“They made us drive the football tonight,” Tiger coach Brock Walton said. “Usually in high school ball, if you make a team drive the football on you, they’re going to make a mistake.”
Raton improves to 8-3 on the season, and will wait for the result of Saturday’s game between No. 3 seed Las Vegas Robertson and No. 14 Shiprock.
Portales, the 11th seed in the 16-team playoff, did all they could to ensure that Raton didn’t get an easy trip into the quarterfinals.
“My hat goes off to Portales,” Walton said. “I think they played an excellent game. It’s not easy when you’re coming in as the underdog.”
Portales drew within one possession in the third quarter, as a 32-yard reception by Hunter Rackler set up a 2-yard touchdown run for Cruz Ontiveros, and Raton made sure Portales would need a two-point conversion when Matt Fernandez hit a 34-yard field goal in the fourth.
Tim Martinez and John Quintana helped turn the Rams away on their final two possessions with interceptions in situations where Portales had to pass.
At the game’s conclusion, Johnson told the players that although it was tough to realize it now, the young Ram team had gone through marked improvements throughout the season.
Portales graduates seven seniors and will return much of its nucleus next year, including Ontiveros (who led Portales with 46 offensive yards) and running back Eric Segovia, who was lost a month ago to a knee injury.
“As young as we were and (playing) through the type of season that we came through this year,” Johnson said, “and for these guys to line up and give all they’ve got week in and week out, despite coming up short, I have nothing but the utmost respect for each and every kid on the football team.
“The experience that these underclassmen are getting through this year will be big towards building to our future.”