Battered and bruised and playing with a traveling squad of just over a couple dozen diehard Cardinals, the Robertson football team went down swinging on Friday night in Ruidoso, but the result was a technical knockout.
The host Warriors ended Robertson’s season by a 50-0 count in the Class 3A state football quarterfinals. Ruidoso (10-1), the No. 3 team in the state, will meet No. 2 Silver — a 49-10 victor over Albuquerque Academy — next weekend in the semifinal round.
Robertson finished 7-5 overall. Four losses were to top-five teams in Class 3A; the other to Class 2A’s top team, Santa Rosa.
By season’s end, the Redbirds had the appearance of a bunch that had endured a 12-round slugfest — or maybe a 15-rounder.
Through attrition, the roster had been pared to 27 or so active players. More than a few had been sidelined with injury, and going into the game, the Cardinals learned they’d be without James Gonzales, who’d been a huge part of the offense as one of their two-back rushing attack.
With head coach Leroy Gonzalez directing the charge, Robertson played on. After the defense forced a three-and-out on Friday’s opening series, it appeared this would be a tight battle much like the teams’ previous meeting this season — a 26-21 win for Ruidoso not decided until the fourth quarter Oct. 19 in Las Vegas.
But it was not to be. Exploiting turnovers — including two interception returns for touchdowns — and employing a balanced approach that nonetheless relied on a solid ground game, the healthier Warriors didn’t take long to assert their superiority.
On the third series of the night, Ruidoso back Devin Carr rushed for the game’s first first down. Carr, who’d run well throughout the rest of the game, helped set up a 40-yard strike from Bryce Pompos to Parker Johnson. The point-after try was good, and the Warriors led 7-0 with 5:20 left in the first quarter.
With Norman Salazar applying good pressure on Pompos, Santiago Aragon made a key stop on third down the next Ruidoso offensive series, and the visitors forced a three-and-out punt for the second time.
On the ensuing Robertson drive, Jonah Lopez’s catch gave the visitors a first down near midfield. Dominic Lucero rushed for a pair of first downs and the Cardinals were in business inside the Ruidoso 29. But Ruidoso intercepted a Nathan L’Esperance pass and returned it 85 yards for a touchdown. With 9:43 left in the second, Ruidoso led 14-0.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Warriors used both rushing and passing to reach the Robertson 10-yard line. The Cardinal defense backed them up several yards over the next three plays, however, and Ruidoso settled for a 32-yard field goal and a 17-0 lead.
Ruidoso made it 24-0 after Pompos connected with Johnson from 69 yards away with 1:17 to go before halftime.
The Warriors picked off L’Esperance a second time, running the ball back 35 yards to paydirt and extending to a 31-0 margin at the 10:46 mark of the third quarter.
A personal foul penalty after Robertson’s unsuccessful offensive drive situated Ruidoso at the Cardinal 44 to start its next possession.
Carr covered the first 11 yards, running to the Robertson 33. Parker took care of the rest a couple plays later, his touchdown making it 37-0 and triggering the running clock.
The Cardinals couldn’t answer and had to punt.
Pompos’ long-bomb pass swiftly got his team to the Robertson 10, and he took the ball in himself the next play. With 3:08 left in the third, Ruidoso was up 44-0.
Lucero took over at QB late in the third, and — having been aided by a dead-ball penalty against the Warriors — the Cards drove to the Ruidoso 29. But the drive sputtered out, and Ruidoso took over on downs.
Once more, Robertson’s defense stepped up, forcing a punt.
Unfortunately for the Redbirds, they fumbled the ball away on the ensuing return.
Ruidoso put an early end to the game on Carr’s 5-yard score with about six minutes left in regulation.