By Dave Wagner
For at least the fourth year in a row, the Portales Rams and Las Vegas Robertson Cardinals open the football season against each other.
In the previous three years, the Cardinals have also ended the Rams’ season in the first round of the playoffs.
Tonight’s contest at Robertson is set for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
“They’re very physical,” Rams coach Jaime Ramirez said. “They play a 3-4 (scheme) on defense and try to stop the run. Offensively, they run the pistol and run option football, with power leads and play-action passes.”
The Rams ended a two-year slide against Robertson last season with a 14-6 win in the opener at Blackwater Draw. However, the Cardinals got healthy late in the season and returned the favor with a 36-0 shellacking of the Rams, also at Blackwater Draw, en route to the Class 3A state title.
Cardinals coach Leroy Gonzalez, though, said PHS should provide stiff competition.
“Portales is Portales,” he said. “They’ve got hard-nosed kids, and they’re always going to come to play, no matter if they’re having a down year or an up year.”
Both teams have scouted the other in preseason scrimmages. Ramirez said he knows who will start tonight at quarterback between seniors Paul Conrow and Matt Martinez, but he wasn’t saying ahead of time which one.
“Martinez played most of the (playoff) game last year, but we’ve got to prepare for both,” Gonzalez said. “And Bronte (Staugaard, junior running back) is a heck of a runner.”
Staugaard burst onto the scene in last year’s opening contest, rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown in the Rams’ victory. He left early in the playoff game, however, with a concussion.
Gonzalez said the Cardinals brought back all but three starters from last year’s championship squad, which perhaps flew under the radar with five losses before getting healthy.
This year, though, they’re ranked No. 1 in preseason in what is now Class 4A.
“We’ve got a target on our back,” Gonzalez said. “We’re defending state champs, and everybody would like to knock off the defending state champs.”
Senior Dominic Lucero, who missed last year’s opener due to injury but returned to rush for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the playoff game, has moved to quarterback, Gonzalez said. Meantime, junior inside linebacker Francisco Arguello leads the Cardinals’ defense.
“They’re a good football team,” Ramirez said. “We’ve played pretty competitive ballgames with them, except for the playoff game last year. They’re very physical, and we’d like to believe we’re pretty physical.”
Portales (0-0) at Robertson (0-0)
• When: 7 p.m. today at Las Vegas, N.M., in the season opener for both teams.
• Radio: KSEL-FM 105.9
• Last year: The teams met twice at Blackwater Draw. The Rams won the regular-season opener 14-6 but the Cardinals took the rematch 36-0 in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.