Kevin Wilson: PNT Managing Editor
BLACKWATER DRAW — Raton had the start no team would dare dream about — one offensive play and a 14-point lead.
But it was no dream for the visiting Tigers, who sustained a small “tidal wave” and used six interceptions to rescue a lethargic offense in a 28-8 win against the host Portales Rams on Friday night at Greyhound Stadium.
The Tigers held Portales to 57 rushing yards and came up big on overthrows and tipped balls from Ram junior quarterback Mario Salazar.
Salazar’s second throw of the game, a pass slightly out of reach of Richard Cage, found its way into John Quintana’s hand and 66 yards later, Raton led 6-0.
Raton saw its first chance on offense with four minutes gone in the game thanks to an interception by Lance Trujillo. The Tigers wasted no time as Jacob Roper ran off tackle for 63 yards, and quarterback Robby Armijo tacked on the two-point conversion run.
The early start was all the Tigers would need against the Rams, who closed to 6 late in the first half but were turned away on all of their second-half drives.
“We weren’t ready to play,” Portales coach Glenn Johnson said. “We never came out ready to play. We have been talking all week about the caliber of football team we were going to face this week. We need to step up and do the necessary things to beat a good football team.”
Raton did do the necessary things in the second half by milking the clock, something Raton coach Brock Walton wished he had done late in the second quarter.
With the 14-0 lead, Raton found itself in position to run down the final 1:30 of the half, and all signs indicated that Portales would let it do just that. Instead, the Tigers managed a pair of incomplete passes and a fumbled snap on a punt gave Portales 20 seconds and 29 yards to the end zone.
Salazar was on target, and Walton thought he’d made a huge mistake after junior Hunter Rackler pulled in the touchdown grab on a one-play drive.
Walton said the intention was to add another score and try to put the game away before the half and it backfired.
“We had a couple pass plays where our receivers were open and could have broken one for six, but their defensive line was so big and strong and got to our quarterback,” Walton said. “Then when we fumbled the snap, you could feel it coming. It was like a tidal wave.”
The wave never lasted, as Raton threw the ball only two times and took advantage of four second-half interceptions — three by Salazar and one by sophomore backup quarterback Chris Mosier.
Eventually, the Raton offense broke through, as Roper scored on a 54-yard reception and added a 29-yard scoring run for insurance in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense played extremely well,” Walton said. “The defense kept us in the game. When you hold a team to eight points, you better win the football game.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Rams, who host Denver City on Friday and travel to Goddard on Sept. 23.
“What the biggest thing with us is, it’s going to be how we react to this, how much better we get as a football team,” Johnson said. “This game most definitely does not make a season, but we need to come out and have a sense of urgency, and we didn’t do that tonight.”