BLACKWATER DRAW — The Portales Rams appeared to be hanging on late in the first half Friday night.
Two long runs from senior quarterback Phoenix Russell, though, turned the game around.
Russell ran 81 yards to set up a Rams’ touchdown just before halftime, then went 82 yards for a go-ahead score on the second play from scrimmage in the second half and Portales pulled away to a season-opening 26-7 win over Las Vegas Robertson at Greyhound Stadium.
Outgained 201-63 before Russell’s first long run, the Rams thoroughly dominated the Cardinals in the second half and finished with an edge of 427-270 for the game.
“I think we just had to work out the cobwebs a little bit,” Rams coach Mark McAfee said. “It’s been a while since we’ve done this.”
Russell added a 33-yard scoring run later in the third quarter, finishing with 241 yards rushing on 13 attempts. He also threw a 45-yard TD pass to David Rodriguez midway through the final period.
Russell called his 81-yard run late in the half — he was hauled down at the Robertson 2, and scored from there two plays later to make it 7-6 — a “quarterback tag.” He dropped back, broke through a hole on the right side and was off to the races.
“The line blocked it perfect, and I just took off,” he said.
Robertson muffed a scoring chance late in the half when senior nose guard Anthony Chavez recovered a James Gonzales fumble at the PHS 1. The Cardinals got another chance, though, when Russell’s pass was intercepted by senior Antonio Arguello and returned to the Rams’ 31.
Three plays later, quarterback Girard Maestas scored on an 11-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 2:01 to go in the half.
The Rams took the second-half kickoff and, starting from their 10 after an illegal block penalty, scored on second-and-2 when Russell found another opening down the right side and took it the distance for a 12-7 lead.
Portales appeared to wear down the bigger Cardinals in the second half.
“We’ve really been working hard for weeks now,” Russell said. “We’re in better shape than we’ve ever been.”
The Rams’ defense, meantime, held Robertson to four first downs and 72 yards in the second half.
“We worked real hard this summer,” said Chavez, who recovered a pair of fumbles and was in on a number of tackles. “We just needed to get the blood flowing. I think we played great; we gave it all we’ve got.”
Martinez was wide open on the TD pass after Robertson’s cornerback bit on a play-action fake.
“Their corner rushed up on the bubble and left David wide open,” said Russell, who went 4-for-9 for 66 yards through the air.
Robertson was without head coach Leroy Gonzalez, who had a kidney transplant in July. He’s expected to return to the press box to coach next week when the Cardinals host Lovington, offensive coordinator and acting head coach Adrian Gonzales said.
The Cardinals, who went 9-3 last season and routed Portales 41-6 in the opener, struggled with penalties, especially early in the game.
“We had a lot of inexperienced kids out there and we shot ourselves in the foot a lot,” Adrian Gonzales said. “We have to clean up a lot of that stuff.
“Portales is a physical team; they won the battle in the trenches. They forced us to go away from our game plan (in the second half). We had to put the ball in the air more than I’d like.”