The Robertson Cardinals had been on a tour de force for more than a month. Every opponent they came up against wilted against the collective pressure and physicality that both sides of the ball provided. This week, the Cardinals knew it would be different. No. 1 Raton is one of, if not the best team currently in 3A football, and Robertson knew they were in for a back-and-forth affair, where one play could make the difference in the game. It was perhaps the game of the year to date in 3A, as the outcome was decided in the game’s final seconds, where the Cardinals could not convert a two-point attempt, giving Raton a 28-26 victory.
The Cardinals knew coming into the game what the mandate was, they had to stop the Tigers’ junior running back Cayden Walton, who has been unstoppable so far this season, picking up at least 158 yards of offense in every game this season. Friday night was no different for the star running back, as he finished with 191 yards rushing, with an impressive eight yards per carry. The Cardinals did not have an answer for him, and he was the single biggest reason the Tigers walked off the field with a victory.
“We couldn’t stop the run,” head coach Leroy Gonzalez said. “Walton had his way with us, that was the theme of the game, we couldn’t contain him.”
The Cardinals were able to throw the football effectively against Raton. Sophomore wide receiver Mateo Contreras made his presence known as a playmaker, and freshman wide receiver Nathaniel Gonzales had his breakout moment on the big stage with a big catch of his own. One silver lining for the team, although it is slight, is that when they got the ball down 28-20 with 2:55 left on the clock, they were able to go down the field and score a touchdown and put themselves just a few yards away from tying the football game. For a team that typically prides itself on ball control offense and is used to being a ground and pound team, having the ability to successfully run a two-minute drill in that spot against a very good team is encouraging, especially with two tough regular season games remaining on the schedule, and of course, the postseason.
“We knew that we could get guys open and we did,” Gonzalez said. “We threw the ball well, I think it was pretty balanced between the run and the pass.”
What was disappointing for the team was the fact that they could not stop Walton. They are a team that prides themselves on defense on physicality, they expect to be the most physical team on the field every time they run out of the tunnel. Walton is an exceptional player, he has proven how good he is against both Las Vegas schools in the last two weeks, but now it appears that the road to the state championship goes through the Tigers and their star tailback, so figuring out a way to put the clamps on him is essential for the Cardinals in order to reach their ultimate goal of a blue trophy.
“We still have a lot to improve upon,” Gonzalez said. “I think we can get better, I think we can get a whole lot better, but it’s one of those games that somebody had to lose and it was a great game between both teams.”
This week the Cardinals get their bye week, and according to coach Gonzalez, it could not come at a more perfect time. After a hard fought game like that coming at the end of eight games in eight weeks, the Cardinals are due for a little time off. A little rest and recovery will be necessary this week, as they regroup for their final two district games against No. 2 St. Michael’s and No. 4 West Las Vegas in the season finale.