By Dave Wagner
CMI sports writer
It’s getting to where the Portales Rams and Las Vegas Robertson Cardinals ought to just go ahead and add a first-round playoff game to their regular-season schedules.
For the third consecutive year, the teams will open the Class 3A playoffs, this time at 7 p.m. today at Greyhound Stadium after playing the last two years at Robertson. Portales (6-4) comes into the 12-team field seeded eighth and the Cardinals (5-5) ninth.
While Robertson won both meetings each of the last two years, the Rams (6-4) opened the 2013 season with a 14-6 home win over the Cardinals.
“I’m looking for another battle,” Rams coach Jaime Ramirez said. “I think both of us have improved throughout the season.
“We’ll have to play solid defense, and offensively we have to take care of the football.”
Junior Matt Martinez got the start at quarterback over senior Daniel Sanchez in the Rams’ previous game, a 20-17 District 4-3A win over Lovington at home on Nov. 1. Ramirez said tonight’s starter will be “a game-time call,” but he added: “Matt ran the ball real well against Lovington, and he didn’t throw it that bad either.”
Martinez was 8-of-17 through the air for 100 yards and rushed 26 times for 109 yards against Lovington, including a game-winning, 9-yard TD run with just over three minutes left.
Ramirez said last week’s bye helped the Rams heal up some of their nicked-up players. He added they are relatively healthy going in, although they did lose senior tackle-defensive end Devon Brent to a broken arm against Lovington.
Robertson went just 1-3 out of the gate this season, but the Cardinals have played much better of late — although they relinquished their District 3-2A title to Taos for the first time in four years.
“I think, with an 8-9 game, this will probably be the tightest one,” Cardinals coach Leroy Gonzalez said of the four first-round matchups. “We’ve gotten some guys back from injury that didn’t play in the first game.”
Sophomore running back Bronte Staugaard rushed for 150 yards and a touchdown for the Rams in the Aug. 30 meeting. He’s averaging more than 140 yards for the season.
“We have to stop Bronte,” Gonzalez said. “He’s pretty good. He’s going to get his yards, but we have to (prevent) big plays.”
The Cardinals have two talented backs in senior James Gonzales III and junior Dominic Lucero, both of whom rushed for more than 1,000 yards during the season. Gonzales ran for 150 yards and Robertson’s only score in the first meeting, but Lucero did not play.
Tonight’s winner travels to top-seeded St. Michael’s (10-0) next weekend in the quarterfinals.