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‘It’s going to be won in the trenches’

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Mirror images.

That’s pretty much the best way to describe the third-seeded Robertson and No. 4 Ruidoso football teams, which play Saturday for the Class 4A state championship.

“I think we’re the same team,” Cardinals coach Leroy Gonzalez said with a chuckle.

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Both teams play smash-mouth football, relying on shifty, dual-threat quarterbacks and powerful running games.

Both teams have aggressive, attacking defenses that fly to the ball.

And both teams have a strong history of success, with the prior five seasons seeing one of the teams in the championship game.

Further, both are hungry for a state championship because the Warriors (9-3) haven’t won it all since 2014 and Robertson (11-1) since 2013.

The teams also know each other well, having played Sept. 15 in a game the visiting Cardinals won 42-28.

“I know the experience is huge, but we haven’t done anything when we’ve gotten there yet,” Gonzalez said, noting the Cards have lost in the championship game the past two seasons. “I don’t know if that weighs on them (his players). They have a chip on their shoulder now and they want to finish the deal.”

Ruidoso coach Kief Johnson said his crew is bellying up to the table with a big appetite, as well, but the Warriors face some long odds.

“I know they’re hungry for it,” he said of Robertson. “And it’s at their place. We were hoping to get a home game and they’ve played every (playoff) game at home this year. That’s huge for them. I know they’re hungry for it since they’ve lost the last two state championships. They’ll be hungry for it. The good thing we have going for us is this senior class were freshmen when we won it in 2014, so they’re hungry.”

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Of this senior group, star running back Isaiah Otero was the only one to get significant action in the that championship game, playing defensive back for the Warriors. But this season, he’s been a two-way stud, rushing for 1,563 yards and 19 touchdowns, while catching another 23 passes for 380 yards and another three scores.

Brennam Stewart takes the snaps for Ruidoso, throwing it for 1,792 yards and 15 TDs, and adding 1,174 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. His favorite downfield target, Gabriel Dorame, has 82 catches for 608 yards.

Robertson running back Antonio Padilla was a big factor in last week’s semifinal win over Portales. (Courtesy of Shannon Steven Aragon)

Robertson’s chief threats are quarterback Arjay Ortiz, who has thrown for 1,424 yards with 16 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,694 yards and 25 scores. Sophomore back Antonio Padilla has emerged Ortiz’s favorite receiver, with 36 catches for 807 yards and nine TDs, while running for 711 yards and finding the end zone 10 more times.

But the game will likely be decided by the unsung guys who pound across the line every play.

“The big difference come Saturday is it’s going to be won in the trenches,” Johnson said. “They’ve got a big offensive and defensive line and us, too. With that said, who can eliminate the mistakes, who can have some big plays, because it may come down to a few big plays. We’re hoping to move the ball. We felt like we moved it well the first time. We scored 28 and had a chance to score a couple of other times.”

Ortiz was the big difference the first go-round, rushing for 172 yards with two touchdowns, throwing two more touchdowns and adding an interception.

“Their quarterback is a guy we need to stop,” Johnson said. “When we played them earlier in the season, we gave up some containment. We have to keep him contained.”

It should add up to an entertaining game for the fans and players, Gonzalez said.

“The last time, it was a slugfest,” he said. “They were tough the last time. We were lucky to get out of there with a win. They were one of the top opponents that we played this year. They were one of the teams we didn’t want to face early in the playoffs. We thought they were real good. I think their offense is a little bit more smooth now. And they changed their defense a little bit to an attacking type of team and its working for them.”

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