Serving the High Plains

Rattlers win with 0:02 left

THS earns first district victory since 2017.

The Rattlers snagged their first district victory since 2017, but not without first making hearts flutter on the sideline and bleachers.

Kamren Apodaca caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Romero with two seconds left to give Tucumcari a 12-7 comeback victory Friday night over Ruidoso at Rattler Stadium.

The triumph in Tucumcari’s district opener was its first district win since a 27-0 decision over Clayton on Oct. 20, 2017. Since then, Clayton has been moved to another district and is playing eight-man football.

The Rattlers, who improved to 3-3 overall, assured themselves their best regular-season record since at least 2015, when THS went 3-7.

Tucumcari’s win Friday also came against the defending champion in Class 3A and the district. But in a sign how quickly fortunes can turn, Friday’s outcome dropped the Warriors to 1-6. Ruidoso has scored just 35 points all season.

With the Rattlers trailing 7-6 with more than six minutes left in the game, they showed grit during a 20-play, 86-yard drive that culminated in the game-winning touchdown.

“This game is a program-builder … being tough, resilient, disciplined,” first-year Rattlers coach Tarik Embrack said. “We had a lot of penalties early, but we fought through it. Our offense has been struggling all year, but we went (86 yards) when we needed it.

“I’m really proud we pulled it out in the end. That’s how you define the program. You fight through all the adversity we had all year off the field,” referring to the death of freshman Javion Martinez in August.

Tucumcari also couldn’t be blamed if it sends a Christmas card to Ruidoso’s defense, which was penalized five times that gave the Rattlers a first down or critical yards during that final drive.

“Those self-inflicted wounds … those allowed (Tucumcari) to keep their drive going,” Ruidoso coach Greg Crow said, noting he has a young team.

“You’ve got to learn from your mistakes and start the next week fresh with the mistakes being corrected.”

In all, the Warriors were penalized 16 times for 146 yards. Tucumcari also encountered problems with yellow flags, with 13 penalties for 105 yards.

Romero went 11-for-15 passing for 95 yards and two touchdowns for the Rattlers. Jordan Rincones gained 86 all-purpose yards and scored a first-quarter TD.

Ruidoso’s loss spoiled a good game for the Warriors’ Trenton Hall, who gained 102 yards rushing and his team’s only touchdown on 19 carries. He also caught three passes for 37 yards.

Midway through the first quarter, the Rattlers were given a short field after Ruidoso managed only a 15-yard punt that went out of bounds on their 28-yard line.

On fourth-and-8, Rincones took a short pass from Romero and rambled through the Warriors defense for a 16-yard touchdown. The rushing attempt for a two-point conversion was short, giving Tucumcari a 6-0 lead.

In the third quarter, Ruidoso embarked on a 19-play, 81-yard scoring drive punctuated by Hall’s 10-yard TD run. Four Rattlers penalties assisted the Warriors during the drive.

“We gave them that lone touchdown drive, all because of the penalties,” Embrack said.

Behind good gains by Hall, Ruidoso seemed poised to score an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter after gaining a first down at Tucumcari’s 17.

But three rushing attempts gained just 5 yards, and quarterback Connor Holland’s fourth-down pass into the end zone was way overthrown.

Getting the ball back, Tucumcari had more the six minutes to work with but was 86 yards from the end zone.

A Warriors personal foul penalty and pass receptions by Rincones and Daymion Urioste moved the ball to near midfield.

Another personal foul call against Ruidoso moved the ball into the red zone. Apodaca ran the ball 13 yards, and Romero ran the ball on a keeper for a first down at the 12.

For many teams, that would have put the ball in field-goal range. But for Tucumcari, that wasn’t an option.

Embrack said his staff had worked with a couple of his players on possibly kicking field goals, but neither showed enough consistency to consider it. Kicking into a stiff south wind on Friday night also made the prospect dicey.

Two successive face-mask penalties against the Warriors advanced the ball to the 2-yard line and gave Tucumcari a first down. Ruidoso took a timeout with 10 seconds left.

Romero tried a short sideline pass that fell incomplete, stopping the clock with seven seconds remaining. Before Tucumcari ran another play with six seconds left, Ruidoso took another timeout.

“We talked about alignments and potential plays they’re going to do,” Crow said.

Meanwhile, Embrack gave his players a pep talk.

“I told them I believe in them, and they’ve got to believe in themselves,” he said.

At the snap, Apodaca raced to the right side, caught a short pass from Romero— who had two blitzers in his face — and stretched by his defender into the front corner of the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

Embrack said the Rattlers had targeted the 6-foot-3 Apodaca for the pass all along.

“He’s a big body,” he said. “Not too many 16- and 17-year-olds are going to want to tackle him. In that area of the red zone, we’ve got to utilize him.”

Apodaca and several teammates and coaches jumped for joy upon seeing the upraised arms of officials to signal a touchdown.

“At the end, you’ve gotta make the play, and No. 4 made a really good play to stretch across to the end zone,” Crow said of Apodaca’s score. “We probably came about 4 inches short of winning the game.”

On the ensuing kickoff, Romero made a low squib kick to keep the ball away from Ruidoso’s best returners. The Rattler defenders made the tackle inside the Warriors’ 30 as time expired.

Tucumcari has a bye this week. They next travel to Albuquerque for a district clash against Hope Christian at 2 p.m. Oct. 14. Hope Christian (2-5) lost 22-14 to New Mexico Military Institute on Friday.

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