Portales head coach Andy Correll, far right, watches as defensive coordinator Mark McAfee puts the Ram defense through the paces Friday. The team was taking a light practice in its last workout of the season. (Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
When the Portales Rams met Las Vegas Robertson in the 2006 season opener, little could anyone have known those teams would be playing again for the Class 3A state title.
Under first-year coach Andy Correll, Portales struggled for much of the season before squeaking out a District 4-3A title. The seventh-seeded Rams (7-5) have since won three playoff games, including road upsets over second-seeded Bloomfield and No. 3 St. Michael’s, to reach their first 3A final in four years.
Meantime, Clovis High graduate Chad Roanhaus has quickly turned around a moribund Robertson program. The Cardinals went from 1-9 during his first season in 2003 to a state championship last year.
Top-seeded Robertson (11-1) and Portales meet in today’s 2 p.m. title clash at Greyhound Stadium.
Roanhaus said he believed Robertson had the talent to perhaps compete for a state title, but said it was hard to anticipate such a quick about-face.
“I’m a little bit surprised,” he said. “If you told me when I got here we’d be playing for a second state championship in four years, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Correll and Roanhaus think the quality of play should be much higher than in the first meeting, won by the Cardinals 13-2. Robertson is on a seven-game winning streak since a 41-14 loss Sept. 22 at Moriarty.
“I think both teams are a lot better, or they wouldn’t be in the state championship,” said Roanhaus, who has gone 32-6 over the past three seasons. “I knew after the first game that Portales would be one of the better teams in 3A.”
Correll said his team was adjusting to a new system.
“When we first met, we were still installing our program,” he said. “We only had about 10 plays on offense. Defensively, we had just one scheme.”
The Rams outgained Robertson 197-181 in the August clash. Correll said they had what they thought should have been a touchdown negated when the ballcarrier was ruled to have fumbled prior to crossing the goal line.
“What impresses me is their running game and their ability to run the option,” said Roanhaus, son of longtime Clovis High coach Eric Roanhaus. “In the first week of the season, I don’t think their option game was quite as efficient as it is now.”
Some of Portales’ early struggles can be attributed to a challenging schedule that includes several Class 4A opponents. Correll, though, believes the competition helped prepare the Rams for the stretch run.
“It’s been a ride, but I really think the strength of our schedule has helped us,” said Correll, who served as an assistant at PHS during the 1990s. “It’s been unbelievable.
None of these guys have played in a game past the first round of the playoffs (before this season). They know they’ve got a tough hill to climb, but we’ve had three tough hills in the last three weeks.
“We’re ready to climb another one.”