By Mickey Winfield, PNT Staff Writer
Portales players, parents, and fans poured onto the Saint Michael’s 50-yard line, creating a pool of black and red Saturday afternoon as the Rams celebrated their spot in the New Mexico class 3A state championship game, beating the third-seeded Horsemen 25-20.
“All I can say is ‘Wow,’” first-year Rams head coach Andy Correll said moments after his team clinched a berth in the title game — their first since 2002. “These guys played their guts out in the second half. I’m so proud of them.”
For seniors like running back Eric Segovia, this is the first real success of any kind in the state playoffs.
“We’ve been looking forward to this since we were in little league,” Segovia said. “It feels amazing to beat a good solid team.”
In fact, the Rams have beaten two good solid teams, both on the road the last two weeks of the state playoffs (second-seeded Bloomfield and third-seeded Saint Michael’s).
Longtime Rams assistant coach and defensive coordinator Mark McAfee watched as his defense started the scoring as senior defensive back Kevin Gonzales picked off a Saint Michael’s pass, returning it 35-yards for the touchdown, then secured the win late in the fourth quarter with another pick.
“I’m really happy things are clicking right now,” McAfee said. “And I’m ecstatic to be where we are right now.”
Senior running back Cruz Ontiveros has also waited a while to play in the big game.
“This feels great,” Ontiveros said seconds after the final gun. “I’ve never been (in the state championship) before. We’re just really pumped up about it, and we’re going to take it all the way baby.”
The Rams host the defending state champion, and top seeded Las Vegas Robertson Cardinals at Greyhound Stadium with a state championship on the line, Saturday at 2 p.m.
“If somebody had told me on Aug. 7 that we’d be in this position,” Correll said, “I’d have called him a liar. This is unbelievable, I can’t be any happier for this group of kids.”