It was a fishing expedition by the Rio Rancho Rams. The Volcano Vista Hawks bit, and the Rams came away Friday night with a huge prep football victory.

Quarterback J.J. Arellano faked a handoff to running back Rayce Ramirez in the closing minute, then kicked the play outside and raced in for a touchdown from 13 yards out with 23.1 seconds remaining, and No. 7-ranked Rio Rancho beat No. 4 Volcano Vista 24-17 at Nusenda Community Stadium in a pivotal District 1-6A matchup.

“We (were) pounding the rock all drive with Rayce, and he’s done a really good job running the ball up the middle for us,” said Arellano. “The coaches said, keep the ball, let’s see what we can do outside, maybe try and make a play happen. And we did.”

The victory by the Rams (7-2, 3-0 in 1-6A) sets up a district championship showdown with No. 1 Cleveland (6-3, 3-0) next Friday. The Storm rolled over Cibola 61-7 on Friday in Rio Rancho.

Volcano Vista (6-3, 1-2) had a terrific chance to all but lock up a top-four seed on Friday night, but watched as the Rams put up 14 points in the fourth quarter to claim this important victory.

Ramirez was the bait at the critical moment.

In a 17-17 game, Rio Rancho got the ball on a punt at its 46 following a nice 15-yard return by Noah Nelson.

Then the Rams fed Ramirez. He had runs of 10, 8, 14 and 7 yards, all up the middle, as Rio Rancho reached the Volcano Vista 13 in the last 30 seconds.

On a second down from the 13, Arellano faked to Ramirez. That left him some space on the far side and got inside the cone for the go-ahead score.

“We noticed in film, end of game scenarios, that they dropped back in coverage (in close games), and we knew we could get some runs off,” Rio Rancho coach Nate Pino said. “Rayce is a tough guy, not the biggest in stature, but the guy’s got some heart.”

Volcano Vista had tied the game with 7:52 to go on a 44-yard line drive field goal. The Rams got the ball and punted. Then the Hawks got it and punted, setting up the last drive.

Both teams scored on their first drive of the game. Ironically enough, both were 14-play, 80-yard marches. Nelson scored on a 4-yard keeper for the Rams midway through the first quarter. Alijah Gonzales scored on a 4-yarder with 1:20 to go in the quarter.

Rio Rancho took a 10-7 lead into halftime on a 29-yard field goal right before halftime.

Volcano Vista QB Ilijah Hansen threw a 45-yard TD pass early in the third quarter for a 14-10 Hawks lead; Arellano threw 8 yards to Raymer for a score on the second play of the fourth quarter for a 17-14 Rio Rancho lead. That score was set up by what appeared to be a botched fake punt by the Hawks that gave the Rams a short field, starting at the Volcano Vista 35.

The Rio Rancho defense did an excellent job on Gonzales. He finished with 101 yards, but it was on 27 carries, and the Rams did not allow Gonzales to hit that home run play he’s been making all season.

“That was our big thing all week, was win the line of scrimmage,” Pino said. “We knew they were gonna be physical, and we had to match that physicality. And you know, our guys did a great job tackling.”