By Kevin Wilson
By virtue of a win at Greyhound Stadium last December, the Ruidoso Warriors are the defending Class 3A state champs in football.
By virtue of a punishment from the New Mexico Activities Association, the Portales Rams are the best 2-5 team in the state.
Neither circumstance matters at 7 p.m. today in Ruidoso, as the Rams and Warriors each look to get a head start in the race for District 4-3A supremacy.
“I think a game like this is going to come back to mistakes,” Ruidoso coach Ridge Bowden said. “Whoever wins this ballgame will be in the driver’s seat going into next week.”
Portales has lost two of its last three games, but pulled the rare feat of losing two games during its bye week — the Rams were forced to forfeit its first two wins of the season after it reported usage of an ineligible player.
Ram coach Glen Johnson did not elaborate on who the ineligible player, but said it was a residency issue that caught them by surprise. Johnson said the team has actually used the punishment as inspiration heading into District 4-3A play.
“This had transpired earlier in the season,” Johnson said. “It’s nothing new to us. They realized it was a situation we could not foresee.”
Instead, the Rams look at themselves as 0-0, with a chance to get partial revenge for last year’s state championship game. The Warriors trailed Portales 22-12 with three minutes left and no timeouts, but capitalized on two touchdowns from Josh Adams and several decisions that backfired on Portales to finish off a 26-22 stunner.
Adams is gone, but Ruidoso coach Ridge Bowden said that losing an athlete of that caliber has actually made the Warriors more versatile, as they move the ball between three to four running backs and receiver Chance Hooper.
“We’re going run the triple option and try to make the defense (guess) wrong,” said Bowden, who is in his second stint at Ruidoso, his first as head coach. Bowden was an assistant with the Warriors from 1984-1989 and 2000-01, with a 10-year term as an assistant for Artesia in between.
In both of last year’s games between the two teams, the Rams dominated possession time with Less Long, Seth Clabaugh and Chris Carter running the ball. Carter and Clabaugh are both back.
“We’ve got to stop the run,” Bowden said. “I think any team coming in knows you have to stop the run. Even if they’re not running the ball like they have in the past, we have to stop it.”
The biggest difference for Portales may be the “jumbo” offensive set installed during the bye week. Portales offensive coordinator Greg Poynor said the set was implemented for two reasons.
“First off, on the goal line, you need some space,” Poynor said. “I wanted some big bodies to get a little push, a little movement on the goal line.”
The main difference is using defensive linemen Josh Teague and Dustin Bare as tight ends. Combined, Teague (270 pounds) and Bare (320) make up nearly 600 pounds. The players they replace, Austin Pullen and Briant Banister, combine to weigh roughly 300 pounds.
Reason No. 2 isn’t so scientific.
It’s fun,” Poynor said. “The defensive guys never get to see the offensive side. It helps our players relax. It’s a lot of fun.”