Serving the High Plains

Injury-hampered Rattlers fall 60-6 at NMMI

Hampered by injuries to its quarterback and nearly all of its offensive line, Tucumcari struggled against district champ New Mexico Military Institute during a 60-6 loss in the regular-season finale Friday night at Roswell.

Tucumcari first-year coach Tarik Embrack said starting quarterback Nick Romero was out with a concussion suffered during the previous game against Dexter. Four of the Rattlers’ five linemen were out with injuries, as well.

“That old saying, ‘You don’t know what you got until it’s gone,’” Embrack said of the injuries. “It makes you more appreciative with what you have.

“I didn’t think (NMMI) was that overpowering. But when you put a whole new group out there with a lot of inexperience, that’s kind of the result you’re going to get.”

Kamren Apodaca, the Rattlers’ backup quarterback, scored Tucumcari’s only touchdown on a 2-yard sneak in the third quarter. Tucumcari’s score was set up after a Colts fumble near midfield. Apodaca and running back Daymion Urioste ran a series of run plays to move the ball to the goal line.

The Rattlers committed turnovers on their first two possessions, including a fluke interception where Apodaca was trying to throw the ball away while pressured by a horde of pass rushers. Both turnovers led to Colts touchdowns.

NMMI (8-2), ranked sixth in Class 3A by, led 40-0 at halftime.

The game ended in the fourth quarter due to the mercy rule.

The Rattlers finished with a 3-6 record, their best season since 2015. Tucumcari bounced back from a 0-10 campaign the previous year.

At one point in the season, Tucumcari was in playoff contention for the first time in years.

But three straight district losses, including Friday’s, ended those hopes. Three district foes — NMMI, Dexter and Hope Christian — each qualified for the playoffs. Had the Rattlers prevailed instead suffering a 22-20 loss at Hope, they would have made the postseason.

The Rattlers also dealt this season with the sudden death in August of freshman player Javion Martinez, prompting the cancellation of one non-district game.

“I think we showed resiliency. I think we exceeded a lot of people’s expectations, but not mine,” Embrack said. “This team could have been playing for a district championship. A lot of people are happy with our progress, and we have a young team we have to keep together and focused.

“But honestly, I felt like this season kind of got away from us. It could have been a playoff year for us. It could have been way better. We had the talent to do it now — just a lot of growing pains. We’re going to be better for it next year.”

Tucumcari will lose just two seniors to graduation — running back and linebacker Antonio Gonzales and center and defensive lineman Erick Perez.

“I’m really going to miss Antonio,” Embrack said. “He’s one hell of a player — very aggressive, very purposeful with everything he does. I wish we could have got him the ball a lot more often, but he was there for us on defense. I’m going to miss him.

“With Erik, it’s hard to find a center, especially one as big as he is. We didn’t have too many mishaps (at center), so he was really good at his job this season. I’m going to miss him, as well.”

Embrack said he wants to return next season as Rattlers coach, but acknowledged his future might be a bit uncertain due to imminent changes in the school district’s leadership.

Longtime superintendent Aaron McKinney is scheduled to retire early next year, and athletic director Wayne Ferguson is set to retire at the end of the current school year.

“I would be a fool to skip out on what’s about to happen,” he said. “There’s 10 juniors coming back; there’s 10 sophomores coming back; there’s 10 freshmen coming back. I’d be a fool to not want to be a part of that.”