By Kevin Wilson: PNT sports writer
RUIDOSO — After playing a catch-up game for the most part, the Rams will now play a different kind of game — a waiting one.
After a 56-35 loss at Ruidoso, Portales’ season hangs in the balance of a seeding meeting tonight after it failed to qualify for one of District 4-3A’s two guaranteed playoff berths.
Portales, at 2-8 and 0-3 in district, is certainly on the playoff bubble for one of the eight at-large berths to be given.
However, count Ruidoso coach Ridge Bowden in Portales’ corner after a late rally against the host Warriors.
“I think Portales should get to go,” Bowden said. “Portales moved the ball effectively against our first defense. I was impressed with the way they threw the ball.”
Portales put up most of its 326 yards of offense against Ruidoso (6-4, 2-1 district) in the second half, and mostly through the air. Junior quarterback Mario Salazar threw for 211 yards and a pair of scores for the visiting Rams, but giving up big plays and falling into a 49-13 hole through the first three quarters doomed Portales.
“Too many mental mistakes early in the ballgame,” Portales coach Glenn Johnson said. “Against good football teams, you can’t afford to make the mental mistakes early and play catchup football.”
Portales was in a quick 15-0 deficit early in the first quarter, after Dayne Hall victimized them with a 50-yard run and a 65-punt return after Portales’ next possession fizzled.
Between those two plays and a 43-yard scoring reception by Lance Dettmer early in the third quarter, and big plays made the difference for the Warriors.
“We can’t afford to give up big plays,” Johnson said. “I know of three plays right now. You take away 21 points, it’s a different ballgame.”
The ballgame that happened instead featured Ruidoso getting most of its yardage on a solid ground game designed at keeping the ball away from Portales, while the Rams got most of their scores on quick-drives.
The Warriors got most of their 336 yards rushing in the first half, as both Hall and Teddy Sowell went over the century mark in the first two quarters.
“Against everyone, we’d like to do that,” Bowden said of the rushing attack. “Our blockers came through tonight. Our offensive line opened up some huge holes. Our running back found them, and when they did, they accelerated.”
The rushing attack was something the Rams suspected all along.
“We knew that coming into the football game,” Johnson said. “Because of the number of yards we gave up last week (against New Mexico Military Institute), we knew they were going to line up and play smashmouth football.
“We had to respond. It took us a while to respond.”
Now, Portales has to wait and see where it could be in the playoffs. There is a seeding meeting tonight and playoff games will be posted on the New Mexico Activities Association Web site (www.nmact.org) Sunday.
If Portales does earn a playoff berth, it would likely owe its berth to its preseason schedule. Though Portales lost eight in a row to close the season, its schedule included games against Roswell, Goddard, Denver City (Texas) and Artesia.
In the same way, Bowden hopes his team’s pre-district schedule — Roswell, Moriarty, Silver , Carlsbad and Deming were some of the Warrior opponents — bodes well in getting the team a high seed.
“Honestly, I think we’re top five,” Bowden said. “With the quality of teams we’ve played and lost against … that should weigh in our favor.”
Both teams were able to score on the defensive end, with Tommie Armstrong returning an interception 39 yards for the score in the third quarter to make the score 49-13. Portales’ Richard Cage returned the favor later by intercepting Jared Story and taking it 29 yards for a score in the fourth.
Portales scored 22 straight in the fourth quarter, but Ruidoso held off any chance for a comeback when Adam Gonzales answered with a 45-yard touchdown run with 1:40 to play.