It’s the semifinals of the high school football season. Four teams remain and the Robertson Cardinals are among them. It’s the sixth season in a row that the Cardinals have reached at least the semifinals, and they will be attempting to win their first state championship since the 2013 season. After last weekend’s victory over West Las Vegas, the Cardinals will now welcome No. 2 seed Socorro to Cardinal Stadium, with a spot in the state championship game on the line. Robertson has not lost at Cardinal Stadium this season, and if that continues the Cardinals will be playing for the state championship on Nov. 27.

“That’s huge playing at home,” Gonzalez said. “And playing here, I think we have a really good record here and other teams know that, hopefully we keep on that track.”

In the second round against West Las Vegas the Cardinals got back to their roots, controlling the clock, playing hard-nosed defense and grinding away a 27-6 victory. For how good this Cardinal offense has been over the last six weeks, the Cardinal defense reminded everybody on Saturday just how good they can be. They’ll need to play that same brand of defense this week against Socorro, which has scored at least 35 points in 10 of their 11 games this season. While the Cardinals offense can put up points as well, scoring at least 40 in seven of their 11 games this season, coach Gonzalez is clear that defense is the key to the Cardinals success on Saturday.

RHS tough defense

Mat Gonzales is able to get Damian Gallegos to the ground in the Cardinals first playoff game against the Dons last Saturday. The Cardinal defense gave up just six points and a repeat performance would likely mean a state championship game berth.

Last week the Cardinals defense held a potent Dons offense to just six points. It’s something that will be hard to replicate for the second week in a row. But matching up with the Dons two times in three weeks could be good preparation for the Cardinals. In 3A football, there are very few teams that throw the ball consistently. Most teams rely on the run game to move the ball down the field. The Dons are one of the few exceptions to that rule, and so are the Warriors, they like to throw the football. Perhaps their best player is senior wide receiver Adadrian Jackson, whose speed on the outside is something that the Cardinals will have to be wary of on every Warrior snap. 

“They got speed to throw around and that’s a concern,” Gonzalez said. “Speed kills, and you know most physical teams aren’t fast, but they got some physical guys on their team as well.”

It was not just a throwback game for the defense last week, the offense looked a little more like the Cardinal offense typically seen under head coach Leroy Gonzalez. A slow grind that eventually wears teams out as they get into the third and fourth quarter. For much of the season they have been hitting big plays, scoring quickly and spreading the defense out more than usual, and this is still a team capable of doing all of those things. Being a defensive coach, Gonzalez likes his teams to control the clock and control the pace of the game. The Cardinals last week did that, and will be looking to do the same thing again this week. Teams with explosive, fast paced offenses like to lengthen the game, the Cardinals want to shorten the game and limit the possessions for their counterpart.

“The more that we can keep the ball away from their offense it’s to our advantage,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t want Socorro to get the ball as many times as they do in a game, and I think that those spread teams just want to accumulate plays… Our thing is to grind it out and hopefully hold the ball, but we’re going to throw the ball at the same time.”

For the Cardinals, their star this season has been senior quarterback and safety Mathew Gonzales. In the last two weeks Gonzales has shown how impactful he can be on both sides of the ball. Last week against the Dons, Gonzales had two interceptions, including one that was returned over 100 yards for a touchdown. In the prior game, also against the Dons, Gonzales ran for 244 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in a high scoring duel. It’s unlikely that Gonzales will have two interceptions or 244 yards rushing against the Warriors, but if he can play at a high level, making the smart plays on offense and be in the right position on defense the Cardinals will have a lot to work with. 

With how great Gonzales has been, the group that gets overshadowed is at the line of scrimmage, and no group has improved more for the Cardinals this season than their defensive line. Coach Gonzalez preaches how important it is to win the line of scrimmage, and last week against the Dons the Cardinals defensive front completely took over the game. Junior linebacker Ace Gonzalez tops 3A, and is third in the state, with 137 total tackles. Gonzalez was one of five Cardinals with at least 12 tackles. Matching and ideally exceeding the Warriors physicality starts with Gonzlaez and junior defensive end Bodie Schlinger who accumulated 12 tackles last week, an impressive feat for a defensive lineman. If the Cardinals defensive front can replicate their dominance from last week and limit the explosive plays by the Warriors they will be playing for a state title next week.

“We need to control the clock and limit explosive plays,” Gonzalez said. “Last week we only allowed two, if we can limit those, you know it’s hard for a team to have a 10-12 play drive… If we can control the big plays, the quick touchdowns and control the clock I think that’s the key for us to have a successful day.”

The Cardinals welcome the Warriors to Cardinal Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday. The winner goes to the state championship game, where they will be facing the winner of Raton and St. Michael’s.

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