By Dave Wagner
If you believe the Associated Press poll, the Class 3A state football champion is highly likely to come from District 4.
The top four teams in the AP rankings — New Mexico Military Institute, Ruidoso, Portales and Lovington — are all in that district. They start knocking heads Friday night with NMMI (6-1) facing Portales (3-4) at Blackwater Draw and Lovington (3-4) traveling to Ruidoso (5-2).
PHS coach Glenn Johnson, whose squad is trying to find the win column for the first time in more than a month after a 3-0 start, said it’s hard to tell what might happen.
“You never know about this district,” said Johnson, whose team lost at Roswell High 25-0 on Friday. “It’s just a matter of who’s playing well.”
NMMI coach Dwight Burns, whose team had a bye last week, noted that the Rams have played a good schedule.
“It seems like everybody says (they’re struggling), but you have to look at who they’re playing,” he said. “Roswell has been down the last couple of years, but they got their quarterback back last week and he made a big difference.
“I look for a very tough, close ballgame.”
The good news for the Rams, Johnson said, is that they should have several players back who missed last week’s game due to injuries — senior quarterback-safety Tyler Rutherford (shoulder), senior guard-defensive end Jacob Lopez and senior defensive end Chris Smith (hamstring).
Johnson said senior Chris Carter, who filled in at quarterback last week, may occasionally spell Rutherford against NMMI. He added that Rutherford may be used at times as a receiver.
Burns said the Colts are preparing for both Rutherford and Carter, who rushed for 164 yards against Roswell, at quarterback.
“They’re both good football players,” he said. “Carter is by far the best athlete at running back we’ve faced all year.”
The Colts’ only loss was a 40-0 shellacking at the hands of Class 2A No. 2-ranked Santa Rosa. NMMI and PHS have one common opponent — Portales beat Tularosa 33-12 in Week 2, while the Colts posted a 42-12 win over the Wildcats in their last game two weeks ago.
“They mix it up pretty well (on offense),” Johnson said. “Mainly, they’re an option football team, so we’re going to have to play assignment football.
“This is the best I’ve seen NMMI since we’ve been playing them. It’ll be a challenge to line up and play disciplined football against them.”
Burns said senior quarterback Justin Richter has “really developed into a good leader for us,” while senior running back Jason Thomas leads the team in rushing from its Air Force-style wingbone attack.
“I think offensively this is probably one of the stronger teams we’ve had,” Burns said. “Defensively, we’re still developing. The potential is there, but the next three games will tell us a lot.”