As they inch their way closer every year to a state title in football, the Taos Tigers are seeing firsthand what it takes to win on the big stage. Delivering the most recent lesson was the Portales Rams, who eliminated Taos from the state playoffs with a 41-11 final in the quarterfinal match at Greyhound Stadium in Portales, Nov. 17.
Too many Tiger turnovers and too many big plays yielded by Taos ultimately was the difference in the game. This was the exact opposite of the week before when Taos was the team that capitalized on their opponent’s miscues and completed the big plays needed to defeat the Hope Christian Huskies 30-28 to advance to the quarterfinal round.
Hoping to pull off an upset win, the seventh ranked Tigers were riding a three-game victory streak that included two dominating wins to close the regular season and the emotional playoff opener at home. The Rams earned a number two seed – having lost just one game during the regular season to class 4A foe, St. Michael’s – and a bye in the first round of the playoffs. Portales was also the defending state champion, and had only lost three games in the last three years.
Improving their win percentage for a second straight year, this was the first 12-game season for Coach Abreu, who has been the head coach of the Tigers for three years now. The reward for Abreu and company was a 260-mile road trip for the 8-3 Taos Tiger team, and a chance to play inside the one-year-old state-of-the-art stadium that doubles as the home field for the Eastern New Mexico University Greyhounds.
During their initial possession, Taos’ offense marched down the field and was met with mild resistance from Portales. Though a touchdown was not garnered during this initial offensive series, the Tigers did score the first points of the game with a successful field goal kick by sophomore place kicker, Ángel Limas. The 35-yard line-drive kick shot through the uprights to put Taos on the scoreboard with just over seven minutes left in the first quarter.
Less than a minute later, Portales would strike back with a 60-yard run by quarterback Tyrese Dawson to put the Rams ahead, giving the Rams a lead they would not yield. This big play would be topped by an even bigger play a mere three minutes later when Ram running back, Julian Garcia ran unscathed for an 80-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-3. An interception and another touchdown in the first stanza by Portales proved too much for the Tigers to overcome as the quarter would expire with the score, 20-3.
In the second quarter, both teams were held scoreless, which was a bit of a moral victory for the Tigers, who turned the football over to the Rams twice on a fumble and interception. Though the 17-point difference placed the Tigers at a serious disadvantage heading into the halftime intermission, the successive stances by Taos’ defense put the momentum in their favor.
The third period “doldrums” continued to plague the Tigers, as they emerged from the break flat-footed for the sixth time this season, going scoreless against Portales, but giving up 14 points. This included a “pick-six” interception – Taos’ fourth turnover on the evening. By the end of the third quarter, the Rams had extended their lead to 34-3.
Shortly after the start of the fourth quarter, Taos was knocking on the door and was poised to score their first touchdown of the game by advancing the ball to within a few feet of the goal line. On second down and goal-to-go from inside the one-yard line, however, the Tigers fumbled the football – their fifth turnover of the game. The disheartening loss of possession was compounded moments later when Portales managed to score a 99-yard touchdown on a sideline pass play.
A late-game touchdown and two-point conversion by Taos helped close the gap a bit, however time would expire on the game and the Tigers’ 2017 campaign.
In other quarterfinal action, the number one ranked St. Michael’s Horsemen were upset at home, losing 26-24 to the number eight Hatch Valley Bears, Nov. 18. Number three Robertson returns to the semifinals after staving off a furious challenge from cross-town rivals and sixth seeded West Las Vegas Dons at Cardinal Stadium, Nov. 18. The 14-13 victory means the Cardinals are the lone team from District 2-4A (and the northern half of the state) remaining in the playoffs. The fourth ranked Ruidoso Warriors also managed to avoid the upset by beating the number five Moriarty Pintos 28-20, Nov. 17.
The final game of the season also marked the final high school game for seniors Jude Suazo, Santiago “Saint” Cortez, Amos Durán, Morgan Thompson, Shane Martínez, Enríque Gonzáles, Irvin Texecahua, Jacob Martínez, Mateo Sisneros, Alex Resendiz, Michael Fletcher and Daniel Thomas.
The Tigers finish the season with an 8-4 overall record (.667 win percentage) and boosts Abreu’s career record to 19-15 (.560 win percentage).