BLACKWATER DRAW — The Portales Rams had trouble taking care of the ball, and Denver City was able to take care of business as a result.
The visiting Mustangs took advantage of five Ram turnovers and rolled up 407 yards of offense to hand Portales its first defeat of the season, 26-21, Friday night at Greyhound Stadium.
Denver City (3-0) scored a pair of touchdowns on Ram turnovers and led throughout the second half. The two scores stood in the fourth quarter, despite the Rams closing to within five in the game’s final minute.
“It’s just like we talked about,” Portales coach Glen Johnson said. “Against good football teams (you can’t turn the ball over).”
Senior receiver Sam Griffin created problems for the Rams all night with eight catches for 159 yards. His 62-yard reception gave the Mustangs their biggest lead of the night, 19-7, early in the third quarter.
Portales (3-1) also created problems for the Mustang defense, as Chris Carter returned to the Ram lineup and accounted for 120 yards of offense. The junior running back returned after missing two games with a deep thigh bruise and had 47 yards of offense on the Rams’ opening drive. His 40-yard jaunt helped set up a 1-yard scoring run for Seth Clabaugh.
Clabaugh scored all three Ram touchdowns, all on short runs. Denver City coach Terry Summers was impressed with Clabaugh and the Portales offense.
“You have to know where he is, even if he’s on the sidelines,” Summers said. “We’ve been scared of him all week and he showed us the coaches were right.”
Clabaugh threw for 112 yards and rushed for 88, but had two interceptions in the second half that helped Denver City seal the victory.
Facing a fourth-and-8 from the Mustang 45 and a 19-14 deficit, Portales went for a fake punt, with Clabaugh replacing Austin Pullen at the punter’s spot. Rowdy Warren was able to make a play on the deep pass and returned the interception back to the Portales 40.
Rashaad Williams scored two plays later on a 41-yard reception, and Portales was unable to recover from a two-score deficit.
“It was an adjustment I made,” Johnson said of the fake. “They had lined up and brought everybody up and left the middle of the field open. I had seen it on the video and we had worked on it in practice.
“You could go either way with it. You can punt the football or (try to) pass the ball and put it into the red zone.”
Portales helped seal its own fate with turnovers on its next two possessions.
Junior Tyler Rutherford fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, and Jason Sellers intercepted another deep pass from Clabaugh. The Ram defense held on both occasions, but Denver City left the Rams with only three minutes to score twice.
Starting at their own 7, the Rams quickly marched up the field thanks to a pair of pass interference penalties and two 19-yard receptions from Carter. Clabaugh finished off the drive with a 4-yard run, but Griffin recovered the onside kick with 38 seconds to go and the Mustangs ran out the clock.
The Mustangs pummeled the Rams 46-20 in last year’s matchup, but Summers admitted that he has a new team and it played just well enough to leave New Mexico without a mark on its record.
“We figure we’ve had enough of the Rams (for this year),” Summers said. “We’re lucky and we know it and we’ll try to go back to Texas and get better.”
Denver City got first-half touchdown runs from Warren and quarterback Kelsey Hinson, who threw for 237 yards. Cole Parrish had 51 yards rushing for Portales and had a 15-yard run to set up Clabaugh’s second touchdown with 4:30 to go in the third period.
Carter led the Rams with 58 yards receiving in addition to his 62 yards rushing.