RUIDOSO – In almost every category but the most important one, Hatch and Ruidoso’s football teams were even on the field in their Class 4A State semifinal, Nov. 24, at W.D. Horton Stadium.
That very special category, of course, is the score, and it was the Warriors that won it, 60-3, to get to their 12th State championship game appearance.
“We are a different team. They’re rolling right now and peaking in the playoffs,” said Ruidoso coach Kief Johnson. “We’ve been fortunate to have home games so far. I’m just so proud of these guys coming through. I can’t say enough how proud I am of this team.”
To begin with, Hatch (8-5) seemed to have the Warriors’ number. In the Bears’ first eight plays after receiving the opening kickoff, running back Chandler Carson got the ball every single time and racked up 57 yards.
But that opening drive stalled at the Warrior 12 yard line, and they had to give the ball up on downs.
On the ensuing drive, Ruidoso (9-3) found the endzone when quarterback Brennam Stewart got in after faking the handoff to Isaiah Otero, then ran untouched for the score with 3:22 left in the first quarter.
Hatch still racked up a lot of yards with Carson running, but the Warriors eventually adjusted.
“It took us a little bit, but we knew we’d wear them down a little bit too,” Johnson said. “Our defensive front line made some adjustments in the second quarter and after the half to start stopping them. They did a good job on that.”
While Ruidoso may have stopped the Bears’ running, they weren’t able to convert themselves until the very end of the half.
After the drive stalled at the Bear 10, Jesus Segura came in to kick a 27-yard field goal to put his team up 10-0 at the break.
After two more scores in the third quarter – on a 30-yard run by Otero and 34-yard gain by Stewart – it looked as though the Warriors had things well in hand going into the fourth period.
Stewart finished the game with 191 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns, while Otero had 91 yards to go with this score.
But after Ruidoso had to punt with 7:49 left in the game, Hatch was finally able to get on the scoreboard with a 4-yard pass from Oscar Gonzalez to Juan Chairez to make it 23-6.
Hatch avoided the shutout, but it was a pair of interceptions by Robert Roller that really sealed things for the Warriors.
The first one came after Ruidoso had to punt it away with just under six minutes left in the game. After being sacked for a seven-yard loss, Gonzalez threw a floater over the middle that Roller was able to come up with.
On the very next play, Stewart made good on Roller’s INT with a 65-ard touchdown ramble for the game’s final score.
Roller’s second interception helped salve a pick thrown by Stewart as the Warriors were trying to run down the clock.
“I knew they were going to pass, they hadn’t been doing that in the entire first half,” Roller said. “They had to come out and throw in the second half, and we were ready for it.”
Once Ruidoso had the ball back, it was nothing but runs and an eventual knee to seal their trip to the State final.
The Warriors now await the outcome of today’s game between Portales and Robertson. A win by the Cardinals would mean Ruidoso would travel to Las Vegas next week. A win by Portales puts the championship game at W.D. Horton Stadium.
Ruidoso has played both teams this year, and lost to both teams. But Johnson is confident they can do well no matter who they face this time around.
“We knew our capabilities, and we knew if we played hard all game long, we had the potential to do this,” Johnson said of his teams’ advancing to the State title game. “It’s one of those years anyone can beat anybody any given game. We lost a couple of games we should have been in, and we can redeem ourselves.”
“I feel like we can win if we just practice good and play how we can play,” Roller added.