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‘A monster game’

SANTA FE, N.M. — When it comes to rivalries, it’s hard to top the Robertson-West Las Vegas gridiron gridlock coming up Saturday.

It’s the type of clash of arms that divides the town, sometimes even households. It’s the closest one can get to the Hatfields and the McCoys.

Of late, however, it has been fairly one-sided, with the Cardinals owning an 11-1 record dating back to 2004, including a seven-game winning streak in which Robertson has outscored its crosstown cousins 331-32. Five of those games have been shutouts and three have ended early because of the mercy rule.

That all could change this season as, for the first time in recent memory, the Dons (6-2, 4-0 in District 2/5-4A) are atop the district standings with St. Michael’s, a game ahead of Robertson (7-1, 3-1), which fell to the Horsemen last week.

“For all the fans and everything, it’s a monster game,” said WLV coach Adrian Gonzales. “For us, we’re preparing to go at another week and let the chips fall as they may. I’m a guy who doesn’t believe in the way you start. I’m a big believer in the way you finish.”

That’s not to say the Dons are not pleased with where they sit right now, but Gonzales said there’s still a lot of work to do to reach the goals the team is eyeing.

“We’ll prepare just like any other week,” he said. “We know what’s at stake, but we try not to put any undue emphasis on it. We try to prepare for it just like any other one. We try not to listen to any of the outside talk. We deal with everything from within the program. The talking is for everyone else. It’s business for us.”

Robertson coach Leroy Gonzalez is taking the same tack.

“We kind of figured that this is the year that West would be up there in the top echelon of teams,” he said. “I think it’s good for our district to have more than one or two teams that could be top-tier teams. It helps getting into the playoffs.”

The Cards currently are ranked fourth in 4A in the NMOTSC coaches poll, dropping from their top spot, while WLV is at fifth.

“Of course, we wanted to win that game, but we knew it was going to be a tough game,” the Cards’ coach said of the loss to St. Mike’s. “We have to tighten our shoes and tighten our chin straps, and work on what we need to work on.”

Robertson quarterback Arjay Ortiz is a dual threat athlete and is the engine behind the Cardinals offense. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

The Cardinals rely on their multi-purpose senior quarterback Arjay Ortiz, who has thrown for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns with one pick and run for another 1,162 yards and 18 TDs.

So stopping him, or at least slowing him down, will be a priority, said Dons’ coach Gonzales.

“I think their teams goes as he goes,” he said. “He’s a great athlete, there’s no denying that. We have to put the emphasis on him. He’s the motor behind their engine. If he’s on, they’re on.”

West Las Vegas quarterback John Balizan will have to be on target with his passes if the Dons are going to end a seven-game losing streak to Robertson. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

As for the Dons, the offense is fed by sophomore quarterback John Balizan, who has been forced to throw more than expected, but has responded, chucking it for 1,556 yards and 15 touchdowns with three interceptions. And Antonio Bustamante has stepped into a void in the backfield, piling up 782 yards and 18 scores.

It all should add up to an entertaining afternoon of football.

“We know what we have internally,” Gonzales said. “We know the types of kids we have and the athletes we have. The next guy steps up and fills in a without skipping a beat and these kids are accustomed to that. We know the type of team we have. It hasn’t been a surprise to us because we know what we’re capable of.”

Across town, Robertson is working feverishly to keep their streak against the Dons intact.

“I’ve never lost to West,” said Cardinals’ coach Gonzalez. “It’s tough. Those are coaches that coached over there that coached under me. They work hard and they’re good coaches. It’s the way it should be. I’m happy for them. They’re doing a real good job over there.”