RATON — Make it two tear-jerkers in a row for the Portales Rams (0-4) after they dropped a last-minute, 38-34 deficit to the Raton Tigers (3-1) Friday.
After falling behind 24-6 in the second quarter the Rams got a touchdown to make it 24-20 at the half and valiantly battled back to lead 34-31 with 1:54 left in the game.
With two timeouts left, that was just enough clock for Raton senior quarterback Dustin Walton to lead his team on a five-play 67-yard drive that concluded with a 14-yard touchdown pass to senior Thomas Hattaway.
For Portales coach Mark McAfee the loss stung but he was pleased with his team’s progress since a 12-6 loss to Texico in which turnovers crippled his team.
“Both sides of the football played really well tonight,” McAfee said. “I told the kids after the game that I’m not sure we lost this as much as we just ran out of time. They couldn’t stop us in that second half.
“They played their hearts out tonight.”
Raton got a 3-0 edge off a 24-yard Hunter Allen field goal on the Tigers’ first series. The Rams’ defense stymied the high-powered Tigers passing attack for more than a quarter before the offense put Portales on the board with a 6-3 lead.
That score was set up when senior quarterback J.J. Collins connected with junior Brandon Lovato on fourth-and-long for a first down at the Tigers’ 13. Two plays later, junior Colin McAfee crashed through for a 4-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers showed their greatest glimmer of offense all night during a four-minute run in the second period in which Walton passed for three touchdowns on consecutive series.
Portales refused to roll over, though, and McAfee’s 20-yard run set up a 40-yard touchdown pass from Collins to Lovato with four seconds left in the half.
Coach McAfee said that touchdown at the end of the half was a huge momentum swing from which Raton struggled to recover.
“They played their hearts out,” he said of his players. “It was a really fun ballgame.”
Portales appeared firmly in control of the clock in the second half, with a ground-chewing drive that started on the Rams’ 15 and consumed seven minutes before a fumble turned the ball over at the Tigers’ 10. The Portales defense forced a quick three-and-out, and Collins & Co. were knocking on the door again in no time.
After a 25-yard pass to senior Jesse Blue and a long-gaining swing pass to senior Lucas Banda, McAfee got the goal-line call again and scored on a 1-yard run early in the fourth to cut the margin to 24-20.
The Tigers appeared poised to return the favor immediately, but a pass deflection by Rams senior Stephen Shields in the end zone followed immediately by a sack and strip of Walton by sophomore Ethan Larson gave the ball back to Portales with 8:56 to play.
Then, with 6:27 to play, Banda broke a 49-yard run and McAfee’s conversion carry made it 28-24 Rams.
Walton engineered another Tigers touchdown in less than two minutes after a long pass to senior Derrick Valdez set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to Hattaway with 4:19 left.
Collins and the Rams started with the ball on their own 40 and cool as cucumbers used two running plays and a first down to set up a 60-yard strike to junior David Rodriguez. The conversion run failed giving Portales a 34-31 lead before Raton’s fateful drive.
Portales hosts Roswell Goddard at 7 p.m. Friday, while Raton be at home against Albuquerque Academy.