By Kevin Wilson
The Portales Rams are striving for perfection, despite a flurry of injuries. The Raton Tigers are just looking to get better.
Portales (2-0) hosts Raton (0-2) at 7 p.m. tonight at Greyhound Stadium, and Rams coach Glen Johnson expects the rebuilding Tigers to challenge his team like they always do.
“It’s always been a good game for us in the past,” Johnson said, “and they always perform at the top of their game against us.”
In the last three seasons, Portales has defeated Raton by scores of 14-13, 12-7 and 29-16, with Less Long rushing for 275 yards in the 2002 matchup.
Johnson said the Rams, ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Class 3A poll, still have fine-tuning to do before opening district play Oct. 24 against Ruidoso.
“We want to have very good execution in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams,” Johnson said. “We’ve gone out and played two ball games and we’re 2-0, but we’re still not where we want to be execution-wise.”
The Rams are also battling a string of injuries. All-state caliber wide rceiver Manuel Sisneros is out for the season with a torn spleen, while Dustin Bare (sprained neck) and Chris Carter (thigh bruise) are out this week. Linemen Mark Gore, Ricky Rivas and Cody Machen will be playing through injuries.
Machen had to sit out of practice early in the week with an injured right hamstring, but he’s glad his coaches have given him clearance to play against the Tigers.
“I can’t sit out,” Machen said. “It’s against my morals.”
“It’s kicked our (butts), I’ll tell you that,” Machen said of the injury situation. “Fresh (Sisneros) is out, that’s going to really hurt us. I just hope it doesn’t keep happening later this season.”
Raton’s problem, on the other hand, is inexperience rather than injuries. First-year head coach Brock Walton is taking over a team that finished 1-9 last year and started six sophomores and two freshmen on defense.
“We’re just trying to gain confidence with every game,” said Walton, who moved up from a three-year stint as offensive coordinator. “We’re just trying to focus on getting better each and every game.”
Walton replaces Richard Main, who was relieved of his coaching duties after going 11-20 over the last three seasons. Walton said that the Tigers are in rebuilding mode, but their schedule isn’t ideal for that situation.
The Tigers have already lost games against Colorado power Pueblo West and Taos, and they have Class 2A champ Tucumcari next week.
Walton thinks the key to the game is stopping Ram quarterback Seth Clabaugh, who is on pace to be Portales’ first player to run and throw for 1,000 yards.
“They control the ball with the short passes,” Walton said. “They’re not looking for the home run every single time they drop back. They do a good job of using the passing game as a running game. When you have a quarterback like they do, it helps a lot.”