By Ryan Lengerich
For the Tucumcari Rattler football team the season starts Friday.
“This is the most important ball game we play since the state championship last year,” said Rattler head coach Dub Smith.
The Rattlers (5-2) make the 114 mile journey to Clayton (6-1) Friday for the district opener at 7 p.m.
Both teams will enter the game coming off wins the previous week. Tucumcari scored two late touchdowns in a 35-21 road win against
Laguna-Acoma. Clayton defeated Elkhart, Kan. 20-8.
“They are pretty balanced,” Smith said. “They run the ball more but they throw the ball to keep you honest.”
Smith said they run the ball well to set up play-action passes. He expects the team that wins the battle on the line of scrimmage and plays well on special teams to win the game.
Clayton’s only loss this season was a 21-0 falter against Texico. The Rattlers fell to Texico 40-0 Oct. 3. Tucumcari and Clayton have each defeated Raton, the only other similar opponent.
“They’re legit,” said Rattler defensive coordinator Wayne Ferguson. “They have been down the past couple of years but they have almost their whole team back.”
The Rattlers defeated Clayton 19-6 last year at Rattler Stadium.
Ferguson said his defense has improved throughout the season with the exception of the two losses.
“We just had two let-downs when everybody got hurt,” Ferguson said. “I don’t know if the kids lost focus, maybe they did with all the injuries.”
Smith said junior quarterback Chris McCasland is almost 100 percent since the ankle injury he suffered early in the season. Junior tight end Nick Wiegel is still questionable with a knee injury, but Smith moved senior outside linebacker Abel Vargas to tight end to replace Wiegel.
“We will probably be getting over some of our bumps and bruises but we’ll be as healthy as we can be at this point in the season with the injuries we have had,” Smith said.
McCasland, a first year quarterback, has settled into his role as the team leader. He has worked after practice on his throwing technique and said he is adapting to the position each game.
“I’m starting to feel comfortable taking snaps,” McCasland said. “I think our line is doing a real good job so I give a lot of credit to them.”
This will be the first District 2 game of the season. Santa Rosa is idle this week and will meet the Rattlers in a rematch of last year’s state title game next week at Rattler Stadium before playing host to Clayton the following week.
Only two of the three district teams advance to the playoffs.
“We are going to gradually work into being ready and by Friday I can’t imagine anybody not being ready,” Smith said. “We just want everybody in the whole town to shut off their lights and go to Clayton.”