The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Rams welcome Tigers

 

November 21, 2018

Kevin Wilson

Portales sophomore Baylor Diaz runs over Grants defender Travis Barnhill in the second quarter of Saturday's Class 4A quarterfinal at Greyhound Stadium. The Rams host Taos 1 p.m. Saturday in the semifinals.

PORTALES — So, it’s back to the state 4A semifinals for the Portales football team.

But, the Rams managed to reach this point last year and things didn’t turn out so well.

It is of course a different year, a somewhat different Portales team, a distinctly different opponent, a noticeably different locale. Last year’s senior-laden Rams team had to go on the road for the semis and play Robertson, who wound up beating them 20-14. Beginning at 1 p.m. this Saturday, Portales will be playing Taos, without a long road trip beforehand. This year’s Rams play their semifinal at the friendly — and perhaps more importantly, the nearby — confines of Greyhound Stadium. Not a bad commute.

“Yes, nice,” Portales head coach Jaime Ramirez said.

“I think it’s a blessing to us, to our team,” Rams sophomore linebacker Baylor Diaz said. “We should play our hearts out.”

So, they’ll get that familiar turf, the familiar-sounding public address announcer, probably a good deal of hometown fans, even on a holiday weekend. But then there’s the little matter of beating a Taos team that won’t be an easy out, the kind of foe you’d expect in a state semifinal.

Though the Rams are 8-3 and on a six-game winning streak, they are facing a 10-1 Taos team that has scored 479 points, while allowing just 130 through 11 games. In case you don’t have time to grab your calculators, the Tigers have outscored their 2018 opponents by a whole-number average of 44-12.

Taos has posted four shutouts this season — 47-0 vs. Los Alamos on Aug. 31; 49-0 at Santa Fe on Sept. 14; 56-0 vs. Espanola Valley on Oct. 12; and 50-0 vs. Pojoaque Valley on Oct. 26. The Tigers’ one loss was a shutout — 27-0 at St. Pius X in Albuquerque on Oct. 20.

But that’s a legit loss because top-ranked St. Pius X (8-3) is no slouch. The Sartans are, in fact, one of the other two 4A teams still afloat in the state tournament, preparing to face Bloomfield (8-4) this Saturday (1 p.m.) at Albuquerque’s Nusenda Community Stadium for the right to play the Taos-Portales winner for a state title the following weekend. The Sartans, by the way, beat Portales 21-20 at Albuquerque’s Milne Stadium on Sept 22.

Should Portales win, it would be the road team against either St. Pius X or Bloomfield.

Before thinking about any possible rematch with St. Pius X, though, Portales has to deal with that once-beaten Taos team that’s rolling off last Saturday’s 55-7 quarterfinal win over Lovington. During the regular season, Taos senior quarterback Justin Good passed for 990 yards and 10 touchdowns with four interceptions, and rushed for 586 yards and 10 scores. Notching the same amount of touchdowns on the ground as in the air indicates how dangerous Good is, how he’s able to burn teams in different ways. That was on display in Saturday’s semifinal against Lovington, as Good scored the Tigers’ first touchdown on a 1-yard run and factored into their second with a 31-yard scoring toss to Angel Limas, helping Taos build a 14-0 lead with 4:45 left in the opening quarter.

Good, however, may have a hard time living up to his name against a downright larcenous Portales secondary that recorded six interceptions — four by Diaz, two by Jordan Garcia — in the Rams’ 64-32 quarterfinal win over Grants last Saturday at Greyhound Stadium. That’s a lot of picks in any game, let alone the state’s elite eight.

Still, Ramirez saw Portales’ pass coverage against Grants in both a half-full and half-empty kind of way.

“It was two-fold,” he said. “I don’t think we played the best game in the secondary, but Baylor, as an outside linebacker, had a great game.”

Even if the Rams are able to neutralize Good, they’ll have to contend with a potent Taos ground attack. Tigers senior Jonathan Garcia rushed for 1,465 yards — including nine 100-yard games — and 14 touchdowns this past regular season. He rushed for two scores last Saturday against Lovington.

Taos senior Brian Moraga also ran for two touchdowns on Saturday, doing it from long- and short-range with scoring runs of 51 yards and 1 yard. Though Maxpreps has Moraga typo-ed in at an amusingly incorrect zero pounds, he could be a handful for Portales’ defense.

The Rams, though, are a handful in their own right. Senior quarterback Julian Urioste has consistently beaten teams on the ground and through the air this season. Junior Kellan Hightower is a dangerous receiver and kick returner. Diaz and junior Romeo Gbassagee are a devastating rushing combo.

But how do they overcome this semifinal round, the round that stymied last year’s team?

“Working hard,” Ramirez said, “and staying together as a brotherhood and just trusting our brothers and trusting our coaches.”

How about Taos specifically?

“They’re a good team, they’re a solid team,” Diaz said. “We’re going to have to play our best.”

“From what I’ve seen on film, they’re a good football team,” Ramirez said. “They’re coached by good coaches. I think it’s going to be a good football game.”

 

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