RUIDOSO – In their first Class 4A State football playoff game of 2017, Ruidoso’s Warriors were facing a familiar opponent. Maybe too familiar.
Moriarty came to W.D. Horton Stadium on Nov. 17, just two weeks after the teams had faced each other in the final game of the regular season.
Both teams had re-tooled things, and things were closer that the Warriors might have liked in a 28-20 victory.
“We started a little slow with our passing game, so we knew we had to do something,” said Ruidoso coach Kief Johnson. “We thought we’d come back out and run the ball some more. We finally got that going.”
Ruidoso (8-3) struggled after the opening kickoff, having to punt after a promising drive stalled at midfield.
Moriarty (8-4) fumbled the ball away on their first play from scrimmage, however, and Ruidoso eventually took advantage of the turnover when quarterback Brennam Stewart found Isaiah Otero for a 21-yard touchdown.
But that was all the scoring for either team in the first half. Ruidoso simply couldn’t put together a stable drive, but was able to hold Moriarty at bay.
All that changed in the final four minutes of the third quarter. After the Warriors got another score from Otero on a five-yard run, Moriarty got on the board with an unorthodox play.
All night, the Pintos had been running a deceptive single-wing offense, with five different players carrying the ball on a regular basis. This time, there was a double reverse that ended up with receiver Jesse Lara throwing a touchdown pass to quarterback Dylan Tapia for a 46-yard touchdown.
Stewart later scored on a 14-yard run with 1:41 left in the third quarter, and the game just stayed interesting from then on.
Both team ran the ball – a lot. Moriarty gained 289 yard on the ground as a team, with Marvin Encinias picking up a lion’s share of 134 yards.
Ruidoso’s hero was Otero, who picked up 207 yards on 30 carries – 66 percent of the Warriors’ total ground gains – and caught five passes for 47 yards while scoring two touchdowns.
“We have more weapons, but we wanted to come out and play this game aggressively. We just wanted to run it and run it and run it,” Otero said. “We knew they were going to get tired, and they did. I was able to break a few runs and Brennam was able to break a few runs.”
Even after Ruidoso scored their last touchdown on a 12-yard run by Stewart with 2:55 left, the Pintos showed nobody could relax.
One play after the ensuing kickoff, Encinias found a hole and ran the ball 45 yards for a score to get within a touchdown and 2-point PAT.
But that was all the scoring there was the rest of the way. Ruidoso was able to get enough first downs and run enough time off the clock to secure the victory and get into the semifinals.
That semifinal game will also be at W.D. Horton Stadium, as the Warriors will host Hatch, surprise victors over top-seeded St. Michael’s in a 26-24 victory.
“We’re still healthy, and it’s going to be physical from here on out,” Johnson said. “This will be another tough ball game.”