By Leroy Chavez – Sports writer
RATON—The young Tiger football team, came of age on Halloween night, with a hard-fought 20-14 first-ever District 5AAA win over the Tucumcari Rattlers in the Jungle on Friday (Oct. 31).
“Kudos to our defense, they bent, but they didn’t break,” said Tiger coach Tory Giacomo.
“I’m darn proud of these guys, they have great attitudes and they have been through a lot—they deserve this win. Two players Johnathan (Cabriales) and Oscar (Arreola), who were injured last week and not expected to play both played hurt—they gave it their all for this team.”
The win places the Tigers in a second place tie with Santa Rosa for the runner-up position in District 5AAA making Raton’s final regular season game a contest with playoff implications. Santa Rosa dropped a 52-0 verdict to the powerful Clayton Yellowjackets in a game that ended in the third period of play.
“We told the kids, if we win this game, we have a chance to go to Santa Rosa and play for a possible state playoff bid and they delivered,” noted Giacomo.
“I love this team.”
On Tucumcari’s first possession, the snap to the punter went awry and Johnathan Cabriales pounced on the ball giving the Tigers possession on the 28-yard line. Seven plays later, Cabriales found paydirt, but the point after attempt went wide right. Raton lead 6-0 with 5:38 left in the first stanza.
The Rattler’s ground game, behind their 215 lbs running back, bounced back marched down the field and scored. The 7 play 64-yard drive ended when Joey Ulibarri crossed the goal line with 2:49 left in the first period. The two point conversion was stifled, knotting the score at 6-6.
Raton answered the score by promptly marching down the field into the red zone, but Dante Mileta was intercepted on the 7-yard line. A few snaps later, Connel Ware stepped in front of a Rattler pass attempt and waltzed into the endzone.
The PAT was no good and Raton lead 12-6 with 7:28 left in the second period.
On Tucumcari’s ensuing possession, the Rattlers utilized their passing and running game to add another touchdown at the 3:23 mark. The 2 point conversion was good and Tucumcari took a 14-12 lead.
Any momentum that Rattlers gain, went quickly out the window, as Martin Ortiz fields the kickoff and rambles all way to the 10-yard line. A series of penalties pushes the ball back to the 28-yard line, but the Tigers were not about to be denied as Mileta connected with Cabriales for a 20-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion on a Mileta keeper made the score 20-14 with :08 seconds left in the half. Tucumcari let the clock run out to end the half.
The second became a defensive struggle, with both teams making key stops. The young Tigers were exceptionally aggressive holding the potent Rattler offense, to pitch a second half shutout. With the win, the Tigers recorded their first ever District 5AAA contest and move into a tie with Santa Rosa in the district standings.
Most teams battling through a one win season tend to fold the tents early, but the young Tiger squad has improved steadily as the season has progressed. The team has played through injuries and adversity all year long, but the coaching staff have kept the ship on a positive track and the senior’s leadership has been superb.
<strong>Santa Rosa Scouting Report</strong>
The Santa Rosa Lions have been dominating Class AAA (formerly Class AA) during the last decade and are still a formidable team featuring a relentless running game out of the single-wing offense. The expected run to the state championship took an tragic detour this year when star quarterback Isaac Velasquez was diagnosed with leukemia early in the season. The Lions have struggled to a 3-6 record, but have played a deceptively strong schedule and can still make noise in the playoffs.
The Lions have 10 seniors listed on the 29-man roster and have 10 players that tip the scales at 200 plus pounds.
The Tigers will end the 2014 campaign with a trip to Santa Rosa to face the Fighting Lions on Friday (Nov. 7) at 7 p.m.