By Kevin Wilson
It was a sunny day in Las Vegas, N.M., with highs nearing the 80s and a clear night, with temperatures in the mid-50s when the Portales Rams and Robertson Cardinals first met to open up the 2006 Class 3A football season.
The days now, are cold and windy in Portales, and snowfall lined Greyhound Stadium Wednesday, three days from the Rams and Cardinals closing the season with the Class 3A title on the line at 2 p.m.
It’s a different circumstance on Dec. 2, with different weather, different stakes and — as some would argue — different teams than those featured on Aug. 25.
“You might as well not even look at that previous game,” said Ruidoso coach Ridge Bowden. “It could have been on another planet, as far as both teams are concerned.”
It’s a common theme from coaches who have faced both Portales and Robertson this year.
The Rams (7-5) can take motivation in the fact their 13-2 loss to the Cardinals was Andy Correll’s first game as Portales coach, the Rams hadn’t decided on Chris Mosier as their starting quarterback and their second battle with the Cardinals sees the Rams with homefield advantage and a four-game streak.
“I think Portales is coming in very confident,” Raton coach Brock Walton said of the Rams, who beat the Tigers 13-0 in the third week of the season. “They have many reasons to be confident. They’ve got a group of kids who have been though the fire. They feel it’s their time. They keep surprising team after team. Realistically, a lot of people didn’t give them a shot in the first round of the playoffs.”
The Cardinals (11-1) can be motivated because they’re the defending 3A champs, they’ve only lost to 4A Moriarty and they’ve outscored their last five opponents 253-20 — a total that doesn’t include Robertson’s 39-0 win over Raton on Oct. 7.
“On the flip side, Robertson is going to come in confident because they’re the defending champs, they’re 11-1 right now and they’ve only lost to a 4A team,” Walton said. “They’re a little hungry to show Portales it wasn’t the true Robertson team they saw in Week 1.”
Walton scouted the Portales-Robertson opener and felt the Rams’ running game matched up well with Robertson’s aggressive, blitzing defensive schemes.
“I thought Portales was able to push them around a little bit. For a team that likes to put pressure on and come after you, you have to be able to just move the chains.
They actually moved the ball better than anybody against Robertson, other than the Moriarty loss.”
But, the fourth-year Tiger coach felt the Ram defense would be tested as well.
“I think Coach (Chad) Roanhaus does a great job of keeping you on your heels, and you never know what’s coming,” Walton said. “I know with Portales’ defensive schemes, Robertson’s going to have to hit holes very quickly to move the ball. They find holes, and they hit them going 100 miles an hour.”
Bowden, meanwhile, expects the defenses to star in Saturday’s contest. Despite seeing big offensive nights for the opponents in losses to Portales (27-7 in an Oct. 20 District 4-3A battle) and Robertson (46-0 in a Nov. 18 quarterfinal matchup), Bowden said he’d be surprised to see each team reach 20 points.
“Defensively, they’re both about the same. I don’t expect it to be a high scoring game. Both teams are very strong defensively. Skillwise, the athletes are about the same.”
Bowden was the last coach to claim a title at Greyhound Stadium, as his Warrior team rallied for two late touchdowns to steal a 26-22 win over Portales in 2002. He acknowledged back then homefield was a huge obstacle, but doesn’t think it would be too much for a playoff-tested team like the Cardinals.
“I think playing at home is a big factor in the playoffs — I’d say at least a touchdown. Can Robertson match that? Yeah, they’ve got a lot of speed and they’ve got a lot of experience.
“To be honest, I picked Portales to beat them in this game (before the season started) because they had the most coming back in the south.”
Walton wouldn’t go so far as to offer an opinion, except that it’s the right matchup for the blue trophy.
“I think it’s a very intriguing matchup,” Walton said. “I believe the two best teams are playing for the state title, and I wouldn’t have said that when the playoffs started.
“My hat goes off to Portales because they’ve done it the hard way.”