LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Senior Chris Carter returned a fourth-quarter kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown and senior quarterback Tyler Rutherford added a game-clinching 57-yard TD run with just over a minute left as Portales High opened its football season on Saturday with a 29-21 victory over West Las Vegas.
Rutherford threw touchdown passes of 1 yard to Carter and 5 yards to sophomore Mario Salazar, the latter giving the Rams a 14-7 lead after a two-point conversion run by Carter.
That set off a stretch of five touchdowns over the final nine minutes, including three in a span of 35 seconds.
On the first play from scrimmage after Salazar’s touchdown, WLV senior quarterback Anthony Lucero broke off a 64-yard scoring run to pull the Dons within a point. A low snap foiled the attempt at a potential tying PAT kick.
Carter then returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown and added another 2PAT run for a 22-13 lead.
The Dons drove for a touchdown with just over a minute left, capped by Lucero’s fourth-and-goal, 1-yard sneak with 1:02 left. A two-point conversion made it 22-21.
Rutherford then broke loose on a second-down quarterback sneak following the kickoff, and added the PAT kick for an eight-point lead with 45 seconds left.
Rams coach Glenn Johnson said that with several players going both ways, preseason conditioning paid dividends.
“This was the toughest two-a-days that we’ve had in the seven years I’ve coached here,” he said. “Even though the talent level changes, we’re still coaching kids.”
West Las Vegas coach James Esquibel said Portales’ special teams play may have been the difference in the end.
“I told our guys we had nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “We can hold our heads up high.”
The Rams struggled for most of the game. They moved inside the West Las Vegas 10 on their first three possessions, but fumbled the ball away once and turned it over on downs the other two times.
“We just had to stay with what we were going,” Johnson said. “We knew it would work. We were just making some mental mistakes (early).”
Portales had an immediate scoring opportunity when the Rams recovered a West Las Vegas fumble at the Dons’ 15 on the game’s first play from scrimmage. PHS immediately moved to a first-and-goal inside the 5, but stalled out on downs.
The Dons punted, and Rutherford led PHS from its own 35 to a first-and-goal at the WLV 4 before an intentional grounding penalty helped move them out of scoring range.
Then senior linebacker Tyler Johnson returned a pass interception to the West Las Vegas 18, but on fourth-and-inches from inside the 10 the Dons’ defense stacked Carter for a short loss.
Carter later fumbled the ball away after a pass reception, and West Las Vegas mounted the game’s first scoring drive.
A roughing-the-passer penalty at the end of a pass completion moved the Dons to the PHS 32. Lucero capped the drive by tossing an 18-yard TD pass to tight end Chris Tafoya with 8:42 left in the half for a 7-0 lead.
Later, Rutherford intercepted Lucero’s pass and brought it back about 40 yards to the WLV 3. Two penalties pushed Portales out to the 30, but on third and goal Rutherford connected with Carter for 29 yards to just inside the one.
On the next play, Carter took a short pass just behind the line of scrimmage and dodged some Dons defender to score with 1:27 left in the half, but Rutherford’s PAT kick was short and West Las Vegas carried a 7-6 lead into the intermission.
PHS 29, West Las Vegas 21
Portales 0 6 0 23 — 29
W. Las Vegas 0 7 0 14 — 21
WLV — Chris Tafoya 18-yard pass from Anthony Lucero (Thomas Gonzales kick), 6:34
P — Chris Carter 1-yard pass from Tyler Rutherford (kick failed), 1:27
P — Mario Salazar 5-yard pass from Rutherford (Chris Carter run), 9:00
WLV — Lucero 64-yard run (run failed), 8:42
P — Carter 90-yard kickoff return (Carter run), 8:26
WLV — Lucero 1-yard run (Matthew Cordova pass from Lucero), 1:02
P — Rutherford 57-yard run (Rutherford run), :45