By Kevin Wilson
RUIDOSO — Like a football on a fumbled handoff or an intercepted pass, a chance for a second-straight District 4-3A title has very nearly slipped out of the collective grasp of the Portales Rams.
Portales’ district opener saw turnovers by both teams in the first half, but the host Warriors held onto the ball and capitalized on Portales miscues in the second half to secure a 31-14 win Friday at W.D. Horton Stadium.
The loss puts Portales (2-6) in unusual situation this week when Lovington visits Greyhound Stadium. Either the Rams or Lovington, which suffered a 43-41 loss to New Mexico Military Institute, will be eliminated from playoff contention.
Just like they have for the last three seasons, Portales will now have to win its final two district games to qualify for the postseason. Ram coach Glen Johnson is optimistic the team can do just that.
“With the caliber of football that is played in this district, anything can happen at any point in time,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to line up and take care of ourselves.”
The problem on Friday was taking care of the ball, as the visiting Rams had two lost fumbles on offense, four interceptions, a fumble on a Ruidoso onside kick and four drives stopped on fourth down.
Ruidoso (6-2) scored 25 of its 31 points off of those miscues, including all 19 in the third quarter to turn a slim Portales lead into a comfortable margin for the Warriors.
With Portales scoring both of its touchdowns off of Ruidoso turnovers, the two teams combined for 39 points off of miscues. Ruidoso coach Ridge Bowden felt the difference was simply that the Warriors capitalized on a few more opportunities.
“They capitalized on our first half mistakes and we capitalized on their second half mistakes and after that, it was a 0-0 game,” Bowden said. “That’s high school football. If you can capitalize on other people’s mistakes, you’re ahead of the game.”
The Rams took a quick 7-0 lead after Russell Knudson recovered a Ruidoso fumble on the opening kickoff. Four plays later Chris Carter scored on a 19-yard reception.
With Ruidoso up 12-7, Knudson forced a fumble with a blindsided hit to Ruidoso quarterback Troy Saenz, which Josh Teague recovered. Carter scored again six plays later, this time on a 3-yard run, to give Portales the lead back.
From that point on, turnovers went against the Rams and the Warriors capitalized. A five-minute stretch in the third quarter saw:
• A 42-yard touchdown reception by Casey Mirau (9:32), on a drive started by a fumbled Portales snap;
• a lost fumble on a squib kick (9:28);
• a 15-yard touchdown reception for Chance Hooper (8:23);
• a fumbled Portales snap recovered by the Warriors (8:13);
• and a 20-yard touchdown reception for Auston Beier (4:33).
And in those five minutes, the Rams went from district favorite to playoff hopeful.
“When you’re in situations like this, when you’re in ballgames like this,” Johnson said, “most definitely (do) you have to line up and take care of the football.”
Ruidoso was able to control the line for key stretches of the game, despite being outsized by the Rams. The Warriors were able to give Saenz time to throw the ball on offense and kept Portales quarterback Seth Clabaugh on the run when.
Bowden credits his line’s success to a necessity of speed.
“We work in the offseason, we move our feet,” Bowden said. “We stay on our feet to play defense, to play offense. You can’t play football when you’re on the ground.
“We know we’re going to be outsized in every game, but we hope our speed and quickness prevail.”