A blank week on the schedule came at a great time for the Portales Rams (0-5) as they prepare to finish their season strong.
“I think our season now is about coming together as a team,” said Rams senior Garrett Hancock. “Like the coach (Mark McAfee) said, this is like our second half.”
A handful of seniors said the team has taken advantage of the off week to try and get healed up. They also said this week’s practice has been all about refining the things they’ve been doing.
“We’ve got people stepping up, and everyday we get better as a team,” said senior defensive end Ben Rasdal. “I want us to come together as a team and we’re doing that.”
Portales lost heartbreakers to Texico and Raton in weeks 3 and 4, and the other losses came against highly-ranked Las Vegas Robertson, Muleshoe and Class 4A No. 1-ranked Roswell Goddard.
“Right now we’re just working on getting better,” senior safety Ryan Hay said. “We’ve played a lot of good teams and we’ve been right there on several of those games.”
While this week’s practice has been more general, the players said Monday’s practice will begin earnest preparation for West Las Vegas, Portales’ homecoming opponent on Friday.
Rams senior center Justin Strawn, who is also a student council leader, says his team knows what it has to do and the flurry of activity surrounding homecoming won’t affect them.
“When we get to the fieldhouse, all that matters is football,” Strawn said.
He and his teammates hope to give the Dons their best game.
The players say that their defense has been the team’s strength so far this year. Hancock at linebacker and senior defensive end Ethan Larson have provided big plays which have kept the Rams tough in the trenches.
“He’s really been stepping it up,” Hancock said of Larson. “On defense you’ve got to be fired up, and me and Ethan, that’s what we try to do.”
Larson said the Texico game in particular required a lot of reserve from the defense because it was on the field so long.
“Keeping our defense up no matter what happens, is what’s important,” Larson said.
He said coach Mark McAfee’s strategy of better managing the time of possession against Raton signaled a turnaround for his team as the offense chewed up huge chunks of clock with long drives.
“We had a few blown coverages, but the rest of the night we did real well,” Larson said. “We gained a lot of confidence in Raton.
That game also saw the Rams return partially to the spread formation they had run the last several years.
The players say they can start to see things jell for the team, and everyone’s focus is sharper than it’s been all season.