By Kevin Wilson: PNT Staff Writer
There’s no question that the Portales Rams are going to be home next weekend. The question is whether or not another football team joins them.
Due to playoff histories, both third-seeded Las Vegas Robertson and 14th-seeded Shiprock owe Portales a game, guaranteeing homefield advantage should Portales reach the second round of the Class 3A football playoffs.
However, there is the not-so-small task of advancing beyond the first round, and a road game at sixth-seeded Raton is the primary obstacle.
A win at Raton would almost be a fitting way for Portales (2-8) to snap its eight-game losing streak, since Raton started the streak in the first place. The Tigers (7-3) took a 28-8 win earlier this season at Greyhound Stadium, but Raton coach Brock Walton speaks almost as if 11th-seeded Portales is the favorite tonight at Tiger Stadium.
“We weren’t too ecstatic about having to play Portales in the first round,” Walton said. “We know they’re a proud team with lots of tradition and they’ll put up everything they can without going down.”
The Portales coaching staff ended Thursday’s practice by talking about how the playoffs were a special opportunity and a different type of game.
It’s not a message that’s fallen on deaf ears, as junior linebacker Taylor Teague said.
“It’s pretty intense,” Teague said of the week’s practices. “Everything’s more intense and we’re trying to get extra stuff into practices.”
Teague acknowledged that Portales didn’t play its best against the Tigers and he’s hopeful the Rams will have a better effort tonight.
That’s exactly what Walton fears.
“I think they’ve improved in every facet of the game,” Walton said. “Their record doesn’t show the kind of team they are. When you play teams like Artesia and Goddard and Roswell High and play in the district that they do, you’re going to get better.”
Also, Walton doesn’t expect a similar game to the third week of the season, where the Tigers picked off six Portales passes, scored a defensive touchdown early in the game and got three touchdowns from Jacob Roper — a 63-yard run in the first and a 55-yard reception and a 29-yard run in the fourth.
“I think it was a reasonably close game all the way through,” Walton said. “I thought the score was not indicative of the game because we scored some cheap ones at the end.
“Our offensive touchdowns all came on big plays. It’s not like we drove the football to beat them.”
Stopping the big play is a concern for Portales coach Glenn Johnson.
“The key to the ballgame is going to be controlling the tempo,” Johnson said. “You line up against good football teams, you can’t spot them (points) and look to play catch-up ball.”
The biggest difference is that Portales is thinner at running back without junior Eric Segovia, who was lost three weeks ago with a season-ending knee injury.
Even without Segovia, Johnson expects Raton to try to stack the defense against the run.
“They execute the run well, they throw the football well and they put eight in the box and play very aggressive defense,” Johnson said. “They’re a very good football team, not only from what we’ve seen on video, but what we saw the third week of the season.”
Class 3A’s other Friday night game pits 10th-seeded Grants against 7th-seeded Bloomfield. Shiprock travels to Robertson for a 1 p.m. Saturday game.