By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
The Eunice Cardinals capitalized on defensive and special team plays to jump out ahead early in a 35-6 win over the Tucumcari Rattlers Friday night at Eunice.
“We can not blame this loss on youth,” Rattlers head coach Wayne Ferguson said.
Ferguson said the Rattlers had offensive and defensive players taken off the field due to injuries. He said he did not want to risk injuring players further with district just around the corner.
“We made some substitutions and adjusted for the personnel loss,” Ferguson said.
The first score of the game was a 4-yard rushing touchdown by the Cardinals’ Greg Mitchell that followed a blocked Rattlers punt that the Cardinals recovered on the Rattlers 11-yard line.
On the next Cardinals’ possession, Mitchell caught two passes from quarterback Ivan Zamora, moving the Cardinals from a first-and-20 to a new set of downs inside the Rattlers 15-yard line. A 14-yard rushing touchdown by Eddy Fabela capped the Cardinals’ second possession.
Leading by two scores, the Cardinals (3-3) decided to gamble with a bit of trickery, kicking and recovering an onside kick, which returned the Rattler defense to the field.
On the ensuing drive, the Cardinals worked their way to the Rattlers 16-yard line, but two holding penalties left them in a third-and -20 situation.
The Cardinals went into a three wide receiver set, and Zamora scrambled to avoid a sack but connected with Adolfo Rodriquez for the Cardinals’ third score of the first half.
Looking to answer the three Cardinal scores, the Rattlers began an impressive ground assault behind the rushing tandem of running backs Saul Moriel and Daniel Lopez.
Moriel and Lopez’s rushing moved the Rattlers inside the Eunice 5-yard line, but three strong goal line stops by the Cardinals brought about a fourth-and-goal. Not to be denied, quarterback Michael Olivas kept the ball and hurdled the Cardinals line for the Rattlers’ sole score of the game (extra point no good).
Almost immediately, there was a chance for the Rattlers to score after Moriel recovered a Cardinals fumble on the following possession. The Rattlers were able to drive the ball into Cardinals territory using their run game boosted by a defensive pass interference penalty.
However, the drive was brought to a halt when Rodriquez picked off Olivas’ pass at the Cardinals’ 22-yard line.
Zamora scored two plays later on a broken play by avoiding a sack and rushing 74 yards for the final score of the first half.
In the second half, the Rattlers defense worked to limit the Cardinals rushing lanes and pressure the quarterback.
Throughout the third quarter the Rattlers kept the Cardinals at bay, but were unable to capitalize on a red-zone possession from a fumble recovery on Eunice’s 1-yard line. The Cardinals goal line defense stopped the Rattlers on the following three downs. Trying to convert on a fourth-and-goal Olivas targeted tight end Javier Villanueva, who had snared several clutch passes for first downs throughout the game for the Rattlers. Olivas rolled out to his right, tried to pass to Villanueva in the end zone, but the pass was picked off by a Cardinals linebacker who returned the ball to the 15-yard line.
Ferguson said his team’s inability to score in the red zone was a combination of missed assignments and reads in both the rushing and passing game.
There were times, he said, when a lane to the outside was open, yet the rusher cut back inside. He said there were opportunities for the Rattlers to get back into a game.
Among the missed opportunities were two fumbles in the final quarter that could have pinned the Cardinals deep in their own territory.
The Cardinals were set to return a Rattlers’ punt when the ball was fumbled at the 10-yard line and rolled into the end zone. Zamora recovered the ball in the end zone and advanced it, avoiding tackles, for a 65-yard return to the Rattlers 35-yard line.
During the following series, Zamora fumbled at the 15-yard line, but recovered the loose ball as it rolled into the end zone for the final score of the night.