RUIDOSO – Coming into their Nov. 3 game against Moriarty, the Ruidoso Warriors were ranked No. 5 in the MaxPreps Class 4A poll. The Pintos were No. 4.
After the Warriors’ 39-31 victory, the question was whether they’d leapfrog Moriarty and earn a first-round bye in the Class 4A playoffs.
We won’t know until the seeding committee meets on Sunday, but one thing is for sure – the Warriors have proven they belong in the post-season.
“Both teams knew we’re fighting for that fourth seed, and we’re hoping now that they’ll bump us up there,” said Ruidoso coach Kief Johnson. “It was a dog fight. They wanted to keep that seed, and we wanted to get it.”
District 4-4A has proven to be one of the toughest districts in the state, including District 2-4A with the likes of St. Michael’s, West Las Vegas and Robertson.
That’s why the Warriors (7-3, 3-1 district) couldn’t take Moriarty lightly. The Pintos proved why very quickly.
After taking the initial kickoff, Moriarty (7-3, 2-2) scored on a five-yard run by Jose Cano, a drive defined by their running game.
Pinto quarterback Dylan Tapia earned 117 yards on the ground in the game, while Xavier Romero added 91.
When Ruidoso turned the ball over on down on their first possession after getting into the red zone, it looked as though it might be a long night for the Warriors.
But things changed in the second quarter, when Isaiah Otero was able to punch it in from one yard out at 5:54, although it came after it looked as though the Warriors might give it up on downs again after driving to the Pinto 10.
A penalty and tackle for a loss meant quarterback Brennam Stewart had to run the ball 12 yards to get to the one, where Otero would score on fourth down.
Stewart led the game with 269 yards rushing.
Otero’s touchdown tied the game at 6-all, but it also got the Warriors past that barrier.
“I have a migraine,” Johnson joked about the early problems. “They’re a tough ball team that fought all the way to the end, but so did our kids.”
By the end of the first half, Ruidoso had a 27-19 lead, although it took some fireworks to get that lead.
Moriarty had got to within a point on a 12-yard run by Tapia with 13 seconds left. They would have had a one-point lead if the two-point conversion had been successful.
On the ensuing kickoff, Otero took the ball from the Ruidoso 19 and ran it all the way back for a touchdown as time expired.
“After they scored, I knew Isaiah was fired up. We had to get the ball in his hands,” Johnson said of Otero’s score.
After a scoreless third quarter, the teams got back to trading scores. It looked as though the Warriors were on their way to a comfortable victory, driving the field with 3:46 left, but the Pinto defense got to Stewart, who through an ill-advised pass which Caleb Fleming intercepted and ran back 48 yards for the score.
That put Moriarty back by just six points, and when the Warriors were forced to punt with 2:39 left, it looked like the Pintos might be able to get a drive and win the game.
Following a punt that skipped out of bounds at the Moriarty one, Otero was sent through the Pinto line to sack Tapia in the endzone for a safety.
Even then, it was just an eight-point lead and Moriarty recovered the onside kick with plenty of time left.
After three plays from kickoff, the Pintos faced a fourth-and-5 at midfield, and Tapia was able to run across the first-down line.
But Grady Woodul wrapped him up and stripped the ball, recovering the punt and effectively sealing the victory for Ruidoso.
“I was tackling him, and it all happened in a split second,” Woodul said. “As I was tackling him, I saw that he had the first down, so I stripped it out and it fell on top of me.”
Woodul also added a touchdown reception that put the Warriors up by 12 points before Fleming’s interception return.
Now it’s up to the seeding committee to determine who is seeded where. A No. 4 seed would mean a bye week, while No. 5 or lower means a game next week.
Whichever happens, Johnson will be happy to be playing in the post-season.
“We really want the fourth seed, that was our goal this week,” Woodul said. “But we know it’s not guaranteed, so we have to be ready to play next Friday night. But we’ll still be at home.”