RATON — For the third straight game, the Portales Rams found themselves in a dogfight at halftime, and once again they responded.
Trailing 9-6 at the half after committing four turnovers and giving up a safety, PHS coach Glenn Johnson switched sophomore wide-out Mario Salazar with senior quartertback Tyler Rutherford and the move worked. Salazar threw a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes as Portales, ranked No. 1 this week in Class 3A by the Associated Press, stormed to a 28-9 win over the Tigers.
“We made just a couple of slight adjustments in the second half,” Johnson said. “Tyler Rutherford (bruised hip) was banged up from last week (in a win over Tularosa at Blackwater Draw), and he was having trouble moving (laterally).”
The Rams (3-0) have now been outscored 22-18 in the first half so far this season, but have outscored their three foes in the second half 72-20.
“I don’t know if our focus shifted after that point or what,” Johnson said. “Mario’s a good young man, he works hard in practice and he’s very coachable.”
On Portales’ second possession of the third quarter, Salazar connected with sophomore Cruz Ontiveros on a 33-yard TD pass, then ran in the 2-point conversion for a 14-9 lead.
The Rams got the ball back, and scored on the next play on a 44-yard pass from Salazar to Rutherford. Danish exchange student Mark Vanniewkoop added the PAT kick to make it 21-9.
“(Rutherford) was probably hurting a little more than he let on to us,” Johnson said. “But he played well at receiver. That’s just the type of competitor the kid is.”
Portales tacked on its final points with 6:23 left when, on a second-and-4 play, Carter broke off a 75-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers (2-1) then marched the ball toward the goal line with a sustained drive, but Portales forced a fumble recovered by Francisco Chairez at the Rams 2 with 48 seconds left in the game.
“Defensively, we played well for four quarters,” Johnson said. “To have four turnovers in one half and only give up one touchdown is a heck of a feat.”
Portales took the lead with just over three minutes gone in the game when Rutherford found Carter on a 30-yard scoring pass. Raton marched back, taking a 7-6 advantage when fullback Isaac Fernandez crashed in on a 9-yard run with 6:05 left in the period and Matt Fernandez added the PAT kick.
The Tigers got their safety later in the period when Carter forced an errant pitchout from Rutherford out of the end zone.