Saturday’s Class 4A State championship football game between Ruidoso and Robertson was one for the ages. It was the kind of game that if you weren’t there to see it with your own eyes, you’ll feel a deep sense of loss when those who were there describe it to you.
It was also the game which saw the Ruidoso Warriors secure their eighth State title with a wild 57-54 victory.
“This was a State championship game, and we were lucky to get out of there with the W,” said Ruidoso coach Kief Johnson. “We were down two touchdowns at one point and still felt like we could come back and win this ball game.”
The Dec. 2 game marked the second time the teams had faced each other this year – Robertson defeated the Warriors in September, a 42-28 decision.
This was also the latest in many instances in which the Warriors and Cardinals had faced each other in the playoffs, but it was the first time they had played in a title game.
It was a contest that saw the lead change eight times, five times in the second half alone.
It was a game that saw Ruidoso (10-3) score 14 points in less than three minutes to take the lead in the third quarter, setting up an epic clash of two offenses that wouldn’t give up.
It was a contest that saw the teams combine for 1,178 yards, including 650 yards in the air.
Among the numerous touchdowns were two scoring strikes to Layon Powell for a total of 154 yards, including a 99-yard halfback option pass from Gabriel Dorame.
But it was Dorame who had arguably the most important and most memorable reception, a short five-yarder from Brennam Stewart to the back corner of the endzone for the final score with just five seconds left.
“I had to come back, and the defender knew I was running it and he jumped it and I went where he wasn’t,” Dorame said. “Brennam found me there for the catch. We were on the same page.”
Dorame’s score came after the Cardinals (11-2) had converted on a fourth-and-18 on the Robertson 30 to keep the drive alive and eventually score a go-ahead touchdown with 1:12 left.
Needing a score with just 72 tics on the clock left didn’t phase Johnson or the Warriors at all.
“We had scored in 30 seconds on one series, so we knew we could do it with 1:12,” Johnson said. “We knew we could get it done. Coach (Patrick) Hodges said ‘let’s put together a championship drive,’ and that’s just what we did.”
True to form, Ruidoso drove to the Cardinal five with 13 seconds to set up the final play.
“Brennam’s a good runner, and we told Gabe to run a comeback to the pylon,” Johnson said. “If he had the pylon, throw it, if not, run it into the endzone. He dipped in to run, but the hole closed, and he was able to throw the ball for the score.”
“I was just thinking run and get to the pylon, but then I saw him open and took the opportunity,” Stewart said. “It happened so fast, it took eight seconds to go through the play, it seemed to take longer in my head.”
This was a game of centimeters, as the game-winning pass went just over the fingertips of a stretched-out Ishmael Martinez before fell into Dorame’s waiting hands.
For the Cardinals, frustration reigned again, as Robertson has now advanced to three straight state championships, and lost each time to a different opponent.
The loss negated a stellar day for Robertson quarterback Arjay Ortiz, who racked up 343 yards in the air with three touchdowns and rushed for three more on 170 yards.
With this victory, Ruidoso breaks the cycle of one State title every 12 years or so, having last won just three years before in 2014.
That’s just fine for senior lineman Macai Garcia.
“It was great to go through the program and get two championships in my high school career,” Garcia said. “That wasn’t something that happened all the time. It’s good to average four years in between now. It wasn’t intimidating, we just had to go there and play ball, and that’s just what we did.”
Fellow senior Grady Woodul concurred.
“I didn’t really feel any pressure to win it, it was all on them, on Robertson,” Woodul said. “They were at home, they were the favorite, and we felt like we just wanted to go in to win State. This was probably the longest week of my life preparing for this.”