By Mickey Winfield, PNT Staff Writer
Yes, Portales lost to Las Vegas Robertson, 13-2, in the season opener on Aug. 25.
But for the Rams, that seems like an eternity ago, you see the Rams were still learning a new system under first-year coach Andy Correll. The Portales team set to square off with Robertson again on Saturday for the Class 3A state championship has matured, become more aggressive and learned a lot of new tricks in the past three months.
“The first week we played Robertson we had about 10 plays, in total, and that was it. It was a totally different look than they’ve ever been coached on, and it wasn’t an easy 10 plays for them to get used to,” Correll said. “(Now), I could write down probably five pages worth of plays that these kids could run, and it’s all on different sets and different looks. It’s just amazing how far the running game has come.”
Credit also goes to an improved offensive line, Correll said.
“The offensive line as a group has matured quite a bit,” Correll said. “They went from being passive, and not really knowing what to do (in the season opener), to being flat-out aggressive and that’s been what we needed all year. I honestly believe strongly, (our blocking) is the reason that we’re where we’re at.”
And it’s not just the offense that has evolved, said longtime Portales assistant coach and defensive coordinator Mark McAfee. He has praise for the entire Ram secondary.
“I think that’s probably where we’ve shown the most improvement from week one to where we are right now,” McAfee said. “Last week we won a game because we’re able to pick off a pass and go in for six.”
Defensive back Kevin Gonzales’ interception return marked the first score in the Rams’ 25-20 semifinal win over St. Mike’s on Saturday.
McAfee said Portales’ linebackers are vastly improved against the pass.
“At the beginning of the year, I didn’t read (offenses) well,” senior middle linebacker Taylor Teague said. “I kind of just read backs, because that’s what I did last year. … This year I’m reading guards, and I’m reading the (offensive) line a lot better and I trust my reads to get to the ball.”
McAfee said Portales’ ability to adjust to situations during the game has been critically important in its playoff stretch.
“We were playing Cobre,” McAfee said. “I had to adjust with my defensive ends. And I was able to talk to both (Matt) Pena and (Zach) Vigil … Two weeks prior to that, I would have talked to them … and they would have looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’ So defensively they understand what we’re about now.”
Supporting evidence is in their won-lost record. The Rams, who entered the playoffs with a losing record, are riding a four-game winning streak.