By Dave Wagner
CNJ sports writer
BLACKWATER DRAW — After struggling a bit during the first two games, the Portales Rams’ offense appears to be operating in high gear now.
Sophomore running back Bronte Staugaard returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown, then added four other TDs rushing and 233 yards on 24 carries as the Rams dominated the Raton Tigers 57-12 on Friday night at Greyhound Stadium.
PHS (4-0), which scored only 27 points and gained just over 400 yards in its first two games, has now racked up 106 points in the past two weeks. And against the Tigers (2-2), the Rams piled up more than 300 yards by halftime and finished with 529.
Senior quarterback Daniel Sanchez tossed three touchdown passes to senior wideout Caleb Burciaga, and the defense sacked Raton quarterback Cam Baird three times and limited the Tigers to 156 yards.
“It was a good job by Daniel throwing the ball, and the line blocked well,” said Burciaga, who caught six passes overall for 128 yards. “I just went up and got the ball.”
PHS coach Jaime Ramirez said his team simply played well overall.
“They (Rams) played well in every phase of the game,” he said. “I thought Raton was a lot better than the score indicated.
“Coming in I was concerned because they’d been playing teams pretty tough.”
The kickoff return may have taken some of the starch out of the Tigers, though. Portales scored its next three possessions, needing only 16 plays to cover a total of 176 yards, then tacked on two more in the final three minutes of the half, including a fourth-and-1, last-second two-yard run by Staugaard to make it 37-12 at halftime.
Staugaard had a bit of trouble gathering in Jordan Darras’ opening kickoff, but finally picked it up near the 11-yard line and began weaving his way through the defenders.
“I had a hard time picking it up,” Staugaard said. “I just ran as fast as I could.”
Staugaard capped his night with a spectacular 69-yard run late in the third quarter on what appeared to be a direct snap. He was hemmed in near the line of scrimmage, but juked his way past a number of Tigers defenders and was off to the races to make it 51-12, and the rest of the game was played with a running clock.
“We understand what we have to do now,” Burciaga said in explaining the offensive eruption in the last two games. “Daniel has a chance to audible (to a different play) at the line of scrimmage and that’s helping us a lot.
“We just have more trust in each other.”
Staugaard said the goal is simply to get better.
“We’re just working hard every day,” he said. “We’re encouraging each other; we’re just trying to get better every day.”
Senior Toby Henson scored Raton’s first touchdown on a 5-yard run midway through the first quarter, and Baird round senior wide receiver Luis Ruiz with a 12-yard TD pass in the final minute of the half.
But PHS sophomore Andrew Garcia recovered the Tigers’ squib kick, and a dead-ball personal foul moved it to the Raton 39. An 18-yard pass to Staugaard and a Tigers roughing-the-passer penalty tacked on at the end of the play allowed the Rams to get in position to score again just before halftime.