By Dave Wagner
Raton coach Brock Walton believes the key to the Tigers’ game against Portales High on Friday night is containing senior quarterback Tyler Rutherford and senior running back Chris Carter.
Easier said than done, counters PHS coach Glenn Johnson.
“With our offensive scheme and philosophy, I don’t think you can take (both of them) away,” Johnson said as the top-ranked Rams prepare to make the long journey to Raton for the 7 p.m. kickoff.
The teams will match 2-0 records and Walton, a 1994 Raton High graduate who is in his second year as head coach, is anxious to see how his team stacks up with Portales, which received six first-place votes en route to its No. 1 position in this week’s Associated Press Class 3A poll.
“Portales looks like a terrific team,” he said. “They’re extremely big and have two terrific athletes in Carter and Rutherford.
“The key to the game is to contain those two. They seem to be the go-to guys.”
Although he hasn’t had all that many carries so far, Carter played a big role in the Rams’ season-opening 29-21 win at West Las Vegas, returning a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in a 23-point fourth quarter that decided the outcome.
Last week, Rutherford rushed for 186 yards and two touchdowns and threw for 126 yards and a score in the Rams’ 33-12 win over Tularosa at Blackwater Draw.
In each of their first two games, the Rams have struggled early before coming to life in the second half.
“We’ve got to get to where we play four good quarters of football,” Johnson said. “Every week we’re playing better competition, and we’re going to have to be able to (play four solid quarters) by the time we come to district play.”
While the Rams have generally held the upper hand against Raton, they had to survive a failed 2-point conversion attempt late to hold on for a 14-13 win last season at Blackwater Draw.
This year, Walton said, the Tigers had three touchdowns called back by penalty and committed five turnovers in the first half alone before pulling away to a season-opening 35-7 win over Bernalillo. Last week, they scored late for a 28-21 win at Taos.
“We enjoy playing (Portales) every year because we’re going to face a quality, well-coached team,” Walton said. “It seems to always be a terrific game.”
Johnson said the Rams are less concerned about their record than making improvement.
“We just need to continue to get better,” he said. “Each week, it doesn’t matter if you’re lining up with (Class) 2A Tularosa or 4A Artesia. You’ve got to be able to execute in all phases of the game.”
Johnson said Rutherford, who sustained a hip injury late against Tularosa, should be OK this week. Senior two-way lineman Jacob Lopez, though, will be limited to just offense, Johnson said, after sustaining a bruised hip against Tularosa.