By Kevin Wilson
BLACKWATER DRAW — Like it has been for countless seasons, the District 4-3A playoff race winds down to three teams competing for two spots.
For the first time in four seasons, the Portales Rams are team No. 4.
Senior quarterback Matt Palmer accounted for 250 yards of offense, and the visiting Lovington Wildcats knocked the Rams out of playoff contention with a 36-6 drubbing Friday night at Greyhound Stadium.
Portales (2-7, 0-2) dominated the tempo of the game and the possession time, but big play after big play helped the Wildcats (6-4, 1-1) gain control of the scoreboard and their fate in the district playoff race.
“I feel that the Portales kids played really hard tonight,” Lovington coach Speedy Faith said. “They were stopping us and we caught a break when we needed it.”
In Friday’s other District 4-3A contest, Ruidoso defeated New Mexico Military Institute 42-28 to take sole possession of first place.
Last season, the Wildcats were spectators to the Class 3A playoffs, as Portales and Ruidoso earned the spots in a three-way tie, determined by point differential.
Lovington could still miss out on the playoffs, but the Wildcats could blame nobody but themselves this time around. Given the current point differentials in either three-way tie situation, the Wildcats would earn a playoff spot with either a win or a NMMI loss against Portales on Friday.
“We can control our own destiny by winning. We couldn’t do that last year.”
Though Portales cannot qualify for postseason play, coach Glen Johnson thinks the Rams owe it to themselves and the rest of the district to play a competitive game against the Colts.
“Whether it does (eliminate us) or not,” Johnson said, “we come back the next week and we still work hard, we still look to do what we need to do to and come out to win a football game.”
Johnson felt the Rams did a good job of executing their offensive game plan, meant to keep the ball away from the potent Wildcat offense. Portales didn’t attempt a pass until their 18th offensive play and held the ball for all but 16:30 of the game.
“When you play against a talented offense as they have, you’ve got to try to minimize the time that they are on the field,” Johnson said. “We knew we had to control the football.”
On the defensive side, though, the Rams couldn’t stop the big plays.
Lovington had 224 of its 386 yards in the first half, with 126 yards coming on five plays. A 34-yard reception by Tyler Graham set up a 10-yard scoring run by Palmer, and a 46-yard reception by Jarred McMahan was pivotal in the Wildcats’ second score, a 26-yard run by Matthew Sydnor.
Faith credited the offense’s success with a lack of turnovers. Lovington had two turnovers, but the effect was minimal — Ryan Rogers lost a fumble on a fake punt that the Rams would have stopped anyway, and Sydnor lost the ball after taking a reception down to the Portales 5.
“We did what we haven’t been doing. We held onto the ball,” Faith said. “We were patient looking for our spots.”
The Wildcats put the game away in the third quarter, getting touchdowns from Sydnor and Jonathan Hernandez. The Rams scored their lone touchdown with 51 seconds left on Seth Clabaugh’s 25-yard pass to Chris Carter.
Palmer completed six passes for 126 yards, and rushed 20 times for 124 yards. Clabaugh had 53 yards rushing on 19 carries and completed eight passes for 89 yards.
The game was delayed for approximately 30 minutes due to a problem with Lovington’s bus. The team bus broke down in the school’s parking lot, and the team had to wait for a new bus came from Carlsbad.