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By Peter Stein
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Lovington subdues Rams

 

Last updated 3/27/2021 at 2:39pm

Peter Stein

Portales quarterback Baylor Diaz tries to fight out of his own end zone during the first quarter of Friday night's game against Lovington at Lovington High School's Brian Urlacher Field.

LOVINGTON - When the smoke cleared, literally, on Friday night's Portales-Lovington football game at Lovington High School, the Rams' undefeated streak had ended, the Wildcats had bested an opponent that gave them trouble in recent years, and the bizarre March sprint of a football regular season was over for both teams.

The game's final play was a short touchdown run by Lovington's Tres Arreola that made the Wildcats' final win tally 36-20. A cannon fired from beyond the end zone to celebrate the Lovington score, and in the resulting haze were two teams that finished regular-season play at 3-1. But it seemed to have a different feel for each.

It was a great way for the Wildcats to close out the regular season, winning impressively on their blue home turf of Brian Urlacher Field. For the Rams, it was more than a loss; they also saw their senior quarterback Baylor Diaz felled with a broken leg, while running back/linebacker Luciano Rodriguez had to watch much of the game propped up by crutches.

The team finishing on the positive side had much to like. Lovington's defense got after it and after it and after it some more. And the Wildcats' offense was able to move the ball well more often than not, often enough at least to overcome a few miscues.

It all added up to a win against a Rams program that had beaten Lovington twice in 2019 alone - for the 4A District 3/4 championship, and a few weeks later in the state 4A semifinal round. Friday's installment of the district rivalry went the Wildcats' way just a week after they were 50ed at Goddard.

"Oh man, it's huge," Lovington head coach Anthony Gonzales said. "Since I've been here - and this is my fifth season here - we've never beaten the Portales Rams. We've been close several times. They're a very well-coached football team that plays unbelievably hard from start to finish. I was just proud of how hard our team played tonight and how they responded after last week's loss."

Rams head coach Jaime Ramirez was impressed with his opponent's effort.

"Honestly, hats off to Lovington. They did a great job tonight," Ramirez said. "They were well-prepared. They won in all phases of the game, if you ask me."

In the first half especially the Wildcats were defensive whirling dervishes. Most of Portales' early offensive plays ended with either a swarm of blue Lovington jerseys swallowing up a Rams ball carrier, or Wildcat defenders flushing Diaz out of the pocket. Sometimes both.

Lovington began striking offensively late in the first quarter. Going for it on fourth-and-12 from the Rams' 22, Wildcats quarterback Jared Jeffrey threw toward fellow senior Javier Contreras in the left side of the end zone. Rams' defensive back Hagen Rains was there to tip the ball, but Contreras stayed with it and hauled it in for six.

Lucas Contreras booted the extra point, and with 4:12 left in the first quarter, Lovington was up 7-0.

The Wildcats scored on their next possession, getting a two-yard touchdown run from Arreola. Another Lucas Contreras extra point made it 14-0 Lovington with 9:30 to go in the second quarter.

The Wildcats found their way into the end zone again before halftime. A drive that began at Lovington's own 29 was later kept afloat when the 'Cats converted a third-and-20 situation on a Jeffrey-to-Javier Corrales pass play that gained 25 yards to the Portales 14. After a false start penalty knocked Lovington back five yards, Jeffrey weaved his way for a 19-yard touchdown run.

Portales began its ensuing possession 11 seconds later, following the kickoff. On first-and-10 from the Rams' own 38, a play that started unfolding in familiar fashion - with Diaz being chased from the pocket by hard-charging Wildcats - ended with the senior quarterback rolling left and then flinging the ball downfield to receiver Robert Encinias, who caught it near the Lovington 20, then turned and ran into the end zone, completing a 62-yard play.

Diaz then dove to the left pylon for a two-point conversion, bringing the Rams within 21-8, as 5:23 remained in the first half.

Portales drew even closer on the second half's opening possession when Diaz found running room on the left side of the field and burst for a 56-yard touchdown. On a two-point conversion try, Diaz pitched to running back Ethan Conrow, but Conrow was stopped short of the goal line, so the Wildcats' lead remained 21-14 with 10:19 left in the third quarter.

Lovington bounced back quickly. The first play of the Wildcats' next offensive series turned into the last play when Jeffrey got to the right outside on a keeper, then headed down the right sideline for a 67-yard touchdown run. Lucas Contreras' extra point stretched Lovington's advantage to 28-14 with 9:54 still to play in the third.

Diaz's third-quarter leg injury was a setback for Portales, but teammate Dason Davis helped make up for it when he broke tackles for a 35-yard touchdown run. A fumbled pitch ruined the two-point conversion try, but with 41 seconds left in the third, Portales was within one score, 28-20.

That, however, was as close as the Rams could get.

Lovington's defense went back into shutdown mode, while the special teams and offense supplied eight more points. The Wildcats notched a safety when the Rams' punter Conrow had to chase a high snap into the end zone and was tackled there with 5:55 left.

And Arreola's two-yard touchdown run at the end of the game pushed Lovington's victory margin to 16 points.

Both coaches were positive after the game, looking ahead to bowl weekend and happy to have played some semblance of a regular season at the end of what has been a trying 12 months that took away their spring practices and fall seasons.

"It's special, special for this group of 12 seniors," Gonzales said. "When all this pandemic started and everything was closed down, everything was shut down, I'm grateful for our great school district still allowing us to have the opportunity to train our kids. It would have been very easy for those 12 seniors to go across the state line and enroll somewhere else. And they didn't do that. They trusted the process, they believed in their coaches."

"I was proud of the way our boys fought," Ramirez said, "and still continued to step in and do the roles, even though there weren't starters in some positions. A couple of injuries really affected us tonight, so (the reserves) did a good job."

 
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