By Kevin Wilson
Even with the district rivalry, it’s safe to say the Portales Rams and Lovington Wildcats share some common bonds.
The approaches are the same, as Portales coach Glen Johnson could tell you.
“The only similarities,” Johnson said, “(are) we spread the field, throw the football, (we’re) not afraid to run the football as we spread the defense.”
And yet, there are more factors bonding the Rams and Wildcats coming into the 7 p.m. Friday matchup at Greyhound Stadium.
Both teams have had problems holding onto the ball. Both have focused on the passing game. And both are closer to playoff elimination at this point than to clinching a playoff spot.
Though a loss wouldn’t necessarily knock either Portales (2-6, 0-1 District 4-3A) or Lovington (5-4, 0-1) out of playoff consideration, the team that comes up short in the annual matchup will need help from the rest of the teams in the district.
The Rams would be knocked out of playoff contention with a loss and a New Mexico Military Institute win over Ruidoso. The Wildcats, meanwhile, would be shut out of the playoffs for a second-straight season if Portales beats them tonight and Ruidoso wins against the Colts.
The easiest way to avoid elimination? It’s pretty simple in the mind of Lovington coach Speedy Faith.
“We need to win,” Faith said. “We’re just concentrating on Portales now. If we don’t, there’s no reason to mess with anything else.”
To do that, Faith figures the Wildcat defense will have to do something to slow down Seth Clabaugh and the Ram offense.
“Obviously, the thing that is consistent is Clabaugh,” Faith said. “He’s going to be good running the ball or throwing the ball. It all goes around him, but they’ve got some receivers they can give the ball to.”
The best way to beat Lovington, meanwhile, has been a constant — dominate the possession time on offense and keep the Wildcats from making a block or breaking a tackle than turns a 6-yard gain into a 65-yard touchdown.
“We’re looking to control the tempo of the football game, not necessarily by running the ball,” Johnson said. “They’re going to make plays here and there (when they are on offense), but we want to make sure they don’t make the big plays.
“We’ve got to wrap them up, make the tackle and make them snap the ball again.”
Both teams have had problems with turnovers this season, a fact which partially explains why two of Class 3A’s perennial contenders are a combined 7-10 coming in.
“Our (turnovers) have been just fumbles and interceptions,” Faith said. “You try to get the kids to concentrate more on holding the ball and not throwing the ball into a crowd and for receivers to not let the ball bounce.”
Lovington won last year’s contest 29-22 and needed an end zone interception to secure the win. This year’s matchup could be just as close, with one or two plays making the difference in which team controls its own playoff destiny.
“It may not be a turnover battle,” Faith said, “but the team that executes its offense will probably be in the best shape.
“It may come down to who has the ball last.”