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Rams Make Claim To Be Best in State

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RRHS Knocks Off No. 1 Bulldawgs

RIO RANCHO — The Las Cruces Bulldawgs came north as No. 1.

They may just have been toppled by the new No. 1.

A week after a disappointing showing against Goddard, Rio Rancho put together a stellar performance Friday night, getting two long touchdown runs from Ulises Astorga as the Rams celebrated homecoming with an impressive 42-21 beatdown of the top-ranked Bulldawgs.

“They were in control most of the game,” Las Cruces coach Jim Miller said.

MaxPreps, the entity ranking teams for the benefit of the New Mexico Activities Association, had Las Cruces at No. 1 this week, followed by La Cueva, Manzano and Rio Rancho at No. 4.

Las Cruces (2-1) was outplayed in all three phases by the Rams (3-1) as the Bulldawgs lost for the second time to Rio Rancho in as many seasons.

And, the Rams now have a legitimate claim to something this program has never been — ranked No. 1.

“Yes,” said defensive back Austin Patterson, who had two interceptions. “Definitely.”

Astorga, despite a 1,600-plus-yard year in 2011, still managed to go through last season unheralded. How? Because last year was a big one for tailbacks — guys such as Mayfield’s Ricky Milks, Manzano’s A.J. Johnson, Las Cruces’ Xavier Hall, Carlsbad’s Eric Galindo and Cleveland’s Romell Jordan.

But Astorga was crucial in last November’s double-overtime playoff win at Las Cruces, and he was vital again Friday.

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior rushed 16 times for 208 yards, including touchdown runs of 82 and 94 yards.

“Oh man,” Astorga said of the importance of the win. “This is really huge. They are … were … No. 1.”

Astorga ripped off an 82-yarder on the second play from scrimmage, an ominous start for Las Cruces.

He later added a 94-yarder to put the Rams up 35-14 late in the third quarter. That was a back-breaker for the Bulldawgs who stacked the box to try and prevent Astorga from doing precisely what he did.

“He’s the real deal,” Miller said. “He had some big runs on us last year, too. If he gets past the second level, it’s hard to catch him.”

Rio Rancho, which had four first-half turnovers in a 21-17 loss to Goddard last week, was incredibly sharp from the get-go.

But the Rams also caught one of the biggest breaks of the year.

Leading 7-0, Rio Rancho — following the first of Patterson’s two picks — reached the Las Cruces 14. On first down, Bruere was sacked. The ball clearly came loose when he was hit, but the play was whistled down. A Las Cruces player had picked up the fumble.

On the next play, Bruere threw a beautiful 22-yard TD strike to Dallin Brady.

“Big swing there,” Brady said. “It’s unfortunate (for them), but that’s how the game goes.”

The Bulldawgs regrouped and tied the game at 14 in the second quarter. A poor punt snap gift-wrapped Las Cruces’ first score, an 8-yard TD run by J.J. Granados. With 4:39 to go in the half, Kamryn Dixon caught a 22-yard scoring pass from Jonathan Joy.

Rio Rancho, led by sophomore quarterback Easton Bruere — who was outstanding Friday, going 17-of-26 for 226 yards with four touchdowns — engineered a quick scoring drive for a 21-14 lead. The Rams went 63 yards in five plays.

“I can’t say enough about Easton,” Rio Rancho coach David Howes said.

Bruere added a 14-yard pitch-and-catch TD to Astorga for a 28-14 lead early in the third, and then Astorga broke off his 94-yard run with 4:17 to go in the third.

The Bulldawgs climbed within 35-21 early in the fourth quarter on a 38-yard TD pass from Joy to Michael Calzada. And Las Cruces was inside the Rio Rancho 35 with less than 7 minutes to go before that drive stalled.

The Bulldawgs are home to La Cueva next week. The Rams go to Clovis.

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