District 4-5A lacks clear favorite

John Props (14), Mark Replogle (24) and Jarod Baldwin are three reasons the Wildcats are off to a 4-2 start. Photo illustration by Eric Kluth.

Eric Butler

Early in the high school football season, Carlsbad and Manzano appeared to be the teams to beat in District 4-5A. With the start of district play tonight, losses in player personnel plus the resurgence of traditional contender Clovis likely makes it a three-team for the district’s two playoff spots. And just like the past couple of years, a good team is going to be left out.

Carlsbad
While the Cavemen (5-2) have been successful — the team’s losses were by a combined five points to powers Mayfield and Artesia — injuries and one notable suspension have turned Carlsbad, which hosts Manzano tonight, into a seemingly more vulnerable squad.
Quarterback Brandon Griffith suffered a concussion in the Artesia contest and missed a win over Albuquerque Highland two weeks ago. Last week, Griffith was back in the lineup for Carlsbad’s 9-0 victory over Goddard.
Cavemen coach Kirk Potter said that Griffith might have been a little rusty in his first game back.
“ He didn’t play exceptionally well, but I think you have to give Goddard some credit for coming in with a good game plan,” Potter said.
Potter’s problems at receiver are more permanent.
Senior Jesse Ramos, a gifted 6-foot-5 athlete, was suspended for the year, leaving speedy Nathan Meek as Carlsbad’s primary receiving threat.
“The plan going in was to have a big, strong quarterback and two go-to receivers,” Potter said. “What has really evolved is that now we have one go-to guy and trying to fill the void for Ramos — we are a passing offense.”

Clovis
The early part of the Wildcats’ season was full of ups and downs. Blowout wins over Roswell High and Valley came just after decisive losses to Mayfield and Highland.
Since then, Clovis (4-2) has registered two more lopsided victories over Amarillo Tascosa and Goddard as the ‘Cats offense has developed into a potent force.
In its four wins, Clovis has averaged 39 points per contest. Meanwhile, the defense has allowed only two touchdowns.
“Getting Phillip Williams back was big for us, he was injured before the season started,” Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said. “Our offense has gotten more versatile.”
Williams, a junior running back, returned three weeks ago and added game-breaking speed.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ quarterback also changed after the first week of the season.
Clovis did lose two-way player Shea Chase last week against the Rockets with a knee injury.
“That’ll hurt us on both sides of the ball,” Kelley said. “He was our only two-way guy really.”

Eldorado
The Eagles (1-5) played the 2002 schedule without coach David Williams, who was injured in a car wreck prior to that season.
This year, Williams is trying to build back the confidence of his squad.
Eldorado’s only victory was against Los Lunas and the Eagles will be put to the test immediately in district — hosting Clovis on Saturday.
“When you’re in a four-team league like this, as soon as you lose a game you’re backs against the wall,” Williams said. “For us to play the perennial top-dog in Clovis to start is tough.”
Williams may have found a bright spot in the Eagles’ most recent game — a 15-13 loss to Albuquerque High. In that game, running back Justin Martin broke loose for 205 yards rushing.
“We have been competitive. There’s no question, though, that when we’ve run into any teams with size, we’ve had problems,” Williams said. “Against La Cueva, against Cibola, we just didn’t match up very well.
“In the Cibola game, we were behind 7-0 with a minute-and-a-half left in the first half. We end up losing 41-0. For us, once the dam breaks it’s all over.”

Hobbs
Like Eldorado, this set of Eagles (1-5) may struggle to stay in the thick of the district race. But second-year coach Phillip Roybal’s team has been a more game bunch than in his first year.
While suffering lopsided losses to a tough Andrews (Texas) team and to Mayfield, Hobbs played Goddard (30-28) and Alamogordo (21-16) tough.
“We have gotten stronger and have been more competitive,” Roybal said.
“Defensively, we’ve played much better. Although, you can see that late in the game, we’re still missing tackles because we’re not as strong as we need to be.”
Offensively, Hobbs is led by William Waldron’s 471 yards. The Eagles, though, may have a new threat in sophomore Eddie Jackson — who has rushed for 286 yards over the last three contests. In the passing game, quarterback
Tyler Barnett’s favorite target has been Jordan Wells, who has 394 yards receiving.
Hobbs is the initial beneficiary of the five-team district this year, getting the bye during the first week of the 4-5A schedule.
“We’re exciting about getting that week,” Roybal said. “I know some people don’t like it because you get two weeks before you play your next game, but I like it. It’s been a good week for us — we’ve been able to get our kids healed up.”

Manzano
The Monarchs (5-1) go into the 4-5A season with a bruised ego, thanks to a 41-0 thumping at the hands of La Cueva last week, and a collective limp.
Quarterback Breck Vernon missed the game against the Bears with an injury and will likely be out for the first couple of district contests too, according to coach Aaron Ocampo.
Ocampo, though, believes that backup Christian Sifuentes is capable of filling in effectively for his talented starter.
“In the Del Norte game, he was 14-for-16,” the Manzano coach said. “He knows our system well and he’s a hard worker. We feel pretty confident – he had a bad game against La Cueva.”
Other injuries may hurt the Monarchs just as much as Manzano visits Carlsbad in a crucial district opener this week.
Offensive tackle Kyler Barrett will be out for that contest with a banged-up knee. Defensive standout Daniel Wysong, meanwhile, broke his thumb against the Bears and doctors estimate he’ll be out for three to four weeks.
But Manzano’s bruising running back Rodney Ferguson, while suffering some injuries against La Cueva, will be in the lineup.
“Obviously, playing without guys that are key players hurts us a little bit,” Ocampo said. “We just need guys to step up. We have backups we feel are pretty good. We feel our chances are just as good as anybody.”