By Dave Wagner
West Las Vegas hasn’t beaten Portales High on the field in the short history of their series. But third-year Dons coach James Esquibel thinks his squad is getting close.
The teams meet in Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. opener in Las Vegas. Portales won last year’s contest 19-7 at Greyhound Stadium, but later had to forfeit that game and another one for using an ineligible player.
“We’ve got them at home this time, which is hopefully a plus for us,” Esquibel said. “We haven’t had too much luck when we went down there.”
While the two forfeits dropped Portales to a final 3-7 record a year ago, the Dons went on to an 8-2 mark and reached the Class 3A playoff semifinals before losing to PHS’ district rival, Lovington. West Las Vegas ended a six-year postseason drought in 2002, and last year’s district championship was the first in 26 years.
Both teams have scouted the other in preseason scrimmages.
“From what we saw, they’re pretty solid up front both offensively and defensively,” PHS coach Glenn Johnson said. “They graduated quite a few also, but even though their skill positions are young, they have good athletes.”
Esquibel said the Rams have a big hole to fill with the graduation of three-year starter Seth Clabaugh at quarterback, but otherwise haven’t changed that much.
“They look like Portales teams of the past,” he said. “They’re very big and physical, and they have good speed.”
The Rams platooned for the most part last season, but that will change. Johnson said he’s simply looking for the best 11 players, and to that end plans have seven two-way starters on Saturday.
He said it’s important for the offense, under the direction of senior quarterback Tyler Rutherford, to be efficient.
“It’s very important that we keep the mistakes to a minimum and execute the best we can at this point,” Johnson said. “We’ve gone through a full week of two-a-days, and we’ve scrimmaged a good Texas 3A football team (Littlefield).
“We need to play. We’re preparing to go in and win the football game.”
Johnson said the Littlefield scrimmage was beneficial, adding that his team played well despite missing a couple of starters.
“Our kids reacted the way I was hoping they would, so that would be a plus,” he said. “There were situations in the scrimmage that we needed to react to, and we did so in a positive manner.”
Both coaches said their squads will be tested in the weeks leading up to district play in October. Portales has three Class 4A opponents plus Texas 3A foe Denver City on the schedule, while the Dons will take on Class 4A Aztec and 3A playoff teams Socorro and Lovington down the line.
“We have a real tough out-of-district schedule,” Esquibel said. “We’ll use the first game as kind of a learning experience.”
Johnson said he expects the Rams to have their hands full.
“On their schedule, we’re the team to beat,” he said. “They’ll be prepared for us.”
Head coach: Glenn Johnson, 7th year
2003 record: 3-7 (1-2 District 4-3A)
Season opener: 1:30 p.m. Saturday at West Las Vegas
Projected starters on offense: Tyson Johnson, Sr. C, 6-0, 290; Jacob Lopez, Sr. LG, 5-7, 190-x; Zack Howard, Sr. LT, 5-11, 250; Robert Kemp, Sr. RG, 5-9, 170; Todd Mosier, Sr. RT, 6-1, 185; Tyler Rutherford, Sr. QB, 6-2, 170; Tyler Johnson, Sr. FB, 5-10, 205; Chris Carter, Sr. TB, 5-10, 190-x; Taylor Teague, Sr. WR, 5-9, 150; Daniel Aranda, Jr. WR, 5-10, 160; Cruz Ontiveros, So. SB, 5-7, 140.
Projected starters on defense: Dustin Bare, Sr. NG, 6-5, 350-x; Chris Christensen, So. DT, 6-3, 195; Jacob Lopez, Sr. DT, 5-7, 190; Tyler Johnson, Sr. ILB, 5-10, 205-x; Kaleb Aguirre, So. ILB, 5-11, 185; Todd Mosier, Sr. OLB, 6-1, 185-x; Chris Smith, Sr. OLB, 6-0, 165-x; Taylor Teague, So. CB, 5-9, 150; Cruz Ontiveros, So. CB, 5-7, 140; Chris Carter, Sr. SS, 5-10, 190-x; Tyler Rutherford, Sr. FS, 6-2, 170-x.
x-Indicates returning starters.
28 — at West Las Vegas, 1:30 p.m.
3 — Tularosa, 7 p.m.; 10 — at Raton, 7 p.m.; 17 — at Denver City, 6:30 p.m.; 24 — Roswell Goddard, 7 p.m.
8 — Artesia, 7 p.m.; 15 — at Roswell High, 7 p.m.; 22 — New Mexico Military, 7 p.m.-x; 29 — Ruidoso, 7 p.m.
5 — at Lovington, 7 p.m.-x.
Note: All times Mountain. x-District 4-3A game.