By Mickey Winfield: CNJ staff writer
The Portales Rams make their return to the New Mexico Class 3A state playoffs Friday night, though they’d prefer the New Mexico Activities Association gave them the week off.
Despite one of the toughest Class 3A schedules in the state and a District 4-3A championship under their belt, the Rams were not given one of the four first-round byes, tagged instead with the seventh seed.
Portales (4-5) will host the No. 10 seeded Cobre Indians (4-6), Friday night at Greyhound Stadium in the first round. Friday’s winner will play at No. 2 seed Bloomfield the following week.
Ram coach Andy Correll was not happy with the seed and felt the NMAA didn’t give Portales much credit for winning the 4-3A title.
“The message that was sent by the NMAA as far as the district champion, I don’t believe was very positive — that the district championship really didn’t mean much,” Correll said after practice Monday evening.
“But to us, and to our kids, it means a lot. This district, as competitive as it has been traditionally, we’re tickled to death to be the District 4-3A champion. That was my only disappointment in the seeding part, was that the district championship really didn’t appear to be a factor.”
According to an NMAA release, team strength of schedule was a top factor, but Correll finds that hard to believe.
The Rams opened their schedule on the road against the defending Class 3A state champion Robertson Cardinals, followed by Texas powers Muleshoe and Slaton. Portales also lined up against Class 4A Goddard, and Roswell, in addition to district opponents Lovington and Ruidoso.
“Supposedly, strength of schedule was looked at, but I honestly don’t believe it was a factor at all, because there’s not many other than us and Lovington in Class 3A that played a tougher schedule,” Correll argued. “Yes, we don’t have the record that some of the northern teams have, but we’re playing pretty tough pre-district schedules and you’re not going to have those kinds of records all the time, and I was disappointed in the lack of the district championship playing a factor.”
District 4-3A teams finished a combined 8-30 on the season, but placed three teams in the playoffs. Ruidoso and Lovington each finished 2-8 and were seeded ninth and 11th, respectively. New Mexico Military Institute (0-9) failed to qualify.
Portales High School principal Mel Nusser said he doesn’t expect the seeding committee to give the Rams credit for playing tough Texas teams.
“You’re not ever going to get the people that live in northern New Mexico, or the Rio Grande valley or the western side of the state, to understand strength of schedule because of the Texas teams that we play,” Nusser said. “They just don’t understand what type of football those (Texas) teams play.”
Nusser also questioned the No. 5 seed given to Albuquerque Academy. The Chargers (6-4) finished third in District 2-3A (behind top-seeded Robertson and No. 3 St. Michael’s). Academy lost to Robertson 49-14, while the Rams gave the defending state champs a much more competitive 13-2 game.
“It doesn’t look right,” Nusser said. “But in all honesty, it takes three things to win a state championship. It takes good players, it takes good coaches and it takes some good luck. It doesn’t matter which side of the bracket you play through or who you play against, you have to be prepared every time you step on the field.”
Portales finished their schedule winning two out of three games, good enough for the district title, and Nusser thinks playing the first round will be beneficial for the Rams.
“I think it’s better for us anyway — what I asked our coaches was, ‘Are we better this week than we were last (week)?’ Yeah, we are. Well, than why would you want to take a week off? I think it’s going to help us tremendously to play,” Nusser said. “Of course, we would have like to be one of the (top) four seeds and get all the way to the second round with a home game. But the way it is, I’m not sure it didn’t fall out as good as it could.”