By Ryan Lengerich
When the defending state champions meet the 2001 title winner Saturday, Rattlers head coach Dub Smith said the Rattlers’ fate may depend on big plays.
District 2 champion Tucumcari (7-2) will meet District 3 runner-up Tularosa (5-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Rattler Stadium in the first round of the state playoffs.
The Rattlers opted not to play Dexter last week as originally scheduled for fear they could play the team in two consecutive weeks. But the Tularosa upset against Estancia gave Dexter the first seed in District 3 and Tularosa a meeting with the Rattlers.
Tucumcari head coach Dub Smith said the Tularosa defense tends to bring its secondary near the line of scrimmage to stop the run. The strategy is not unusual against the run-heavy, ball-control Rattler offense.
Smith doesn’t see the strategy as a challenge, but an opportunity.
“They will put up almost an 11-man front; when you do that we have the backs who feel like they can break one,” Smith said. “If we get a crease when they bring it up like that we will see some big plays.”
Saturday will be a homecoming for Tularosa head coach Dave Lynn who began his coaching career as a Rattlers assistant coach in 1971-’73. Lynn said his ties to Tucumcari will not have any impact on the game.
“I don’t dwell on that stuff a whole lot because what it comes down to is blocking and tackling,” Lynn said. “Whoever does that will win the game.”
Lynn said this year’s Tularosa team has no standout players and starts four sophomores including quarterback Solomon Baca.
“We have just kind of matured as a team,” Lynn said. “It is just in the last two or three ball games that we figured out where our kids need to play.”
Smith said Tularosa is not a big team, but one of the quickest teams the Rattlers will see all year. Senior linebacker A.J. Molinas said the line will be the key to the game.
“It starts with the line and ends there too; if we open up holes and block for our backs they can break it,” Molinas said. “Their line is not very big, we should blow them off the ball.”
Lynn said his team’s tight front line is not an adjustment for Tucumcari.
“It’s nothing different than we have done all year long,” he said. “We are just going to stop what they do best.”