ALBUQUERQUE – Rio Rancho High School junior quarterback Noah Nelson says he’s ready to get back on the field after missing a few weeks with a leg injury, but his replacement at QB, sophomore JJ Arellano, says there’ll be some competition.
And why not?
In the Rams’ latest victory, a 49-27 rout of Atrisco Heritage Academy in a penalty-marred game on Oct. 8 at Nusenda Community Stadium, Arellano tossed six touchdown passes and ran 70 yards for another.
That lone rushing TD was unique, not only because it gave the Rams (5-2, 1-0) the lead to keep, 21-14 after Bryson Strohecker kicked his fourth of seven points-after, but because of the way it evolved: The whole offensive line and a running back swept right, but Arellano bungled the snap from center, picked the ball up and went left, practically untouched along the west sideline en route to the end zone.
Arellano also carried the ball 23 times for 137 yards.
“I know (Nelson is) a great player, but he’s got some competition now,” Arellano said.
“We keep improving every single game,” he said after the win over the Jaguars (5-3, 0-2), coached by former Rams assistant Howard Knezevich. “Our goal is to work harder and get better every week.”
He knew it was his best game, even though his team had 14-point leads in the first two quarters, only to take a 28-27 lead into the dressing room at halftime. Arellano was sacked three times in the first half, twice due to breakdowns in protection, the other a coverage sack.
“One was on me,” he said. “The biggest thing right now is improve on our protection, get ready for Cibola.”
In the first quarter, Arellano threw TD passes covering 37 and 16 yards to, respectively, Traiven Williams and Anthony Raymer.
In the second quarter, he connected with Javas Maria on a 28-yarder, and also went on his 70-yard TD run.
In the third quarter, his scoring passes covered 10 yards (to Dominic Valencia), 26 yards (Raymer) and 35 yards (Maria).
The fourth quarter was scoreless, although the Rams were in the red zone and poised to score if they needed points, with Arellano taking three consecutive kneel-downs after Pino called “victory formation.”
At halftime, Arellano said, head coach Nate Pino advised the defense to “go out there, do their job; if everyone does their job, they don’t score on us.”
Check and check.
The third quarter was decisive: The Rams scored three times, the Jags turned the ball over on downs twice and Ram Ryan Brown intercepted a pass. AHA never crossed the 50 in the fourth quarter.
Jaguars QB Manny Sedillo torched the Rams’ secondary for 337 yards on 31-of-43 passing; RRHS’s Diego Montaño also had an interception, which occurred in the first quarter and led on play later to the first Raymer TD reception. AHA’s running game was non-existent and amounted to negative yardage.
The rams also went without a turnover, while the Jaguars had three, including coughing up the opening kickoff, although the rams were unable to take advantage and score off that miscue.
Bring on the Cougars
The Rams play host to Cibola (6-1, 1-1), Friday at 7 p.m. at Rio Rancho Stadium. The Cougars also have question marks at quarterback, having lost standout Adan Chavez to a broken ankle in their 57-7 loss to Volcano Vista on Oct. 7.
Except for the Rams’ 1997 debut season and the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Rams and Cougars have met every year, with the Rams winning the last eight and holding a decisive 18-6 margin over their rival from down the hill.
After their first 10 meetings, they’d each won five times. Until Cleveland High opened in 2009, Cibola was the Rams’ main rival and the team RRHS has played more than any other.