By Ryan Lengerich
For Rattlers fans, Rob McClelland looks much better in uniform.
After watching most the season in street clothes, the senior scored two touchdowns in a triumphant return from a week two knee injury and lead the Rattlers to a 21-14 comeback victory against Tularosa in the state quarterfinal game.
McClelland finished with 94-yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns including the game winner. He did not resume practicing with the team until the day before Saturday’s game.
“Sometimes you see a player come off of injury like this and he hasn’t worked out and he is a fresh body,” Rattlers head coach Dub Smith said about McClelland. “It didn’t really surprise me because I have seen this happen before where a player comes off the injured list and they really perform well.”
Rattlers junior Chris McCasland fumbled a Wildcats punt on the 16-yard-line leading to a 4-yard touchdown by Tularosa junior quarterback Jude Otero with 6 minutes left in the first quarter. It would be the first half’s only points for either team.
Two more fumbles hurt the Rattlers in the first half, and the two teams traded interceptions as time wound down. The underdog Tularosa team took a 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“We told them we have two choices — to go out and play hard in the second half or turn in our pads Monday,” Smith said.
A poor Tularosa punt gave the Rattlers the ball in the 35-yard line early in the second half. Six straight runs ended with a 1-yard McCasland touchdown to tie the game. The Rattlers totaled 176 rushing yards on 32 attempts but only managed 13-yards through the air.
McClelland got loose on a 31-yard misdirection play for a touchdown on the Rattlers next possession.
“When he saw that crease, with his speed it was one of the big plays that we broke on them,” Smith said. “I think Rob may be one of the fastest AA football players in the state.”
Two costly Rattlers penalties saved the Wildcats as they moved the ball 80-yards to tie the game on a 2-yard Robert Abercrombie run with 4 minutes left in the game. Tularosa head coach elected to tie the game with a field goal rather than test the Rattlers with a two point conversion attempt.
“Looking back at it now with the time to think about it I might have done that (2-point conversion), but at the time you don’t ever know that stuff.”
A short kickoff gave the Rattlers the ball on their own 45-yard line with 3:41 seconds left in a tie game.
The Rattlers executed a 65-yard, 8-play drive that ended with a 6-yard McClelland sweep play to the weak side for the game winning score with 33-seconds remaining.
Tucumcari sophomore Eric Holt intercepted an Otero pass to seal the game for the Rattlers, who caused three turnovers and held the Wildcats to 200-yards total offense.
“We stepped it up on defense but we need to play good on both sides of the ball,” Holt said. “I thought it was going to be a little easier than this but they did put up a good fight.”