By Arnie Leshin
Back when present assistant coach Brock Walton was Raton’s head football coach, and from 2007-2010, the Tigers had some classic games against St. Michael’s. After that the Raton enrollment went down and it was no longer on the Horsemen’s schedule.
But until the 2008 game at St. Michael’s, the Tigers had won four-straight times. All tight games won by two, seven, six and one. Then came the other one-pointer after Raton’s 2 ½ drive to Santa Fe.
Two of Brock Walton’s finest players were related to him. Senior and starting quarterback Jordan Carlini, his stepson, and sophomore Dustin Walton, the back-up signal-caller, his nephew.
There were 41 points up on the scoreboard at halftime and the Tigers were up 24-17. But in the third quarter, Raton scored once after Carlini injured his leg and was replaced by Dustin, and now St. Michael’s was down 30-17 when Carlini, also the kicker, remained on the sideline and his team did not make the point-after this time.
And after the score remained the same heading into the final eight minutes, the Horsemen scored twice, made both PATs, and took a 31-30 lead in the final minutes. Then with time running out, Carlini said he was okay and was sent in to attempt a short field goal that would win the thriller and make for a happy trip north.
But, lo and behold, Carlini, who had been impressive all season, couldn’t put it through the uprights this time. The snap was bad, the hold was bad, and he had to boot the ball after it barely got to him. Game over.
So now the Tigers are back in 3A, in the Horsemen’s district again, and on Friday night St. Michael’s will making the trip to Raton in a key regular-season finale. The same night, Robertson will go cross town to rival West Las Vegas.
It boils down to a loss by the Dons and a win by the Cards would give the Horsemen first place in district as the NMAA will announce its state tournament field Sunday. This came about when St. Michael’s lost at the Dons, 14-13, and the following Saturday dominated visiting Robertson, 39-7.
But if the Cardinals (7-2) win as they usually do versus the Dons (6-3), it would create a three-way tie that St. Michael’s would win out based on point differential. It would be very difficult for Robertson and WLV to overtake the Horsemen’s current 52-14 advantage in the point differential.
But Raton figures to provide a tough time at home. There, it is 3-2 while going 2-1 on the road, so this becomes its sixth contest at home. Not bad, six of 10 on its home field. St. Michael’s is unbeaten in four starts at home and 1-4 on the road.
While the Horsemen lost their first three starts, they came together to win four in a row before the tough setback at West Las Vegas.
The Tigers were trampled by visiting La Junta, Col., 47-0, in game one. Them came a 34-6 triumph at long-time rival Trinidad, Colo, followed by a 42-7 setback at home over Socorro, and then a 35-14 victory over visiting Tucumcari. Then it went to 4-3 with a road win over Laguna-Acoma, and a home win over Albuquerque Academy. What followed was a 42-19 defeat at Robertson and a 42-0 rout at Santa Fe Indian School.
So the Tigers and Horsemen are at 5-4, but St. Michael’s is 2-1 in district and tied with Robertson, while WLV is 3-0 and Raton 1-2.
Tory Giacomo is now the Tigers’ head coach after Brock Walton resigned after the 2011 campaign, and then returned as an assistant coach.
Senior quarterback Aden Vanderwater wears number 13, but his team is fortunate to have him. He’s the starting quarterback who has completed 83 of 152 passes for six touchdowns while being intercepted four times. He has rushed for 120 yards, and is the team’s leading scorer and most effective player. He is 6 feet, only 150 pounds, but plays big.
Then there’s junior Garrett Kelley who has made good on 6-for-6 PATs, but the team has no field goals. Freshman Jesse Kelley is the back-up quarterback who has made good on 22 of 37 throws for four TDs, with two passes intercepted.
And St. Michael’s and Raton will meet up again for the first time in eight years. And this Tiger roster has 8th grader Cayden Walton, perhaps another Brock Walton relative.