By Mike Linn
ALBUQUERQUE — Saturday night’s Clovis Wildcat victory came down to three feet. Not three feet meaning one yard, but two feet with break-away speed and razor-sharp, stop-and-go cutting ability and another foot with strength and accuracy.
Clovis kicker Jason Seefeld’s four field goals and Wildcat running back Phillip Williams’ ability to dance, maneuver and sprint his way to 141 yards on 22 carries helped the Wildcats edge Manzano 34-28 Saturday night at Wilson Stadium.
The victory means the Wildcats are guaranteed a playoff birth and can win the district championship with a victory over Carlsbad next weekend.
“Phillip (Williams) did a great job tonight running the ball. He helped put us in a position to score,” Wildcat assistant coach Darren Kelley said. “This is a good game for us, a good test for us. Now it’s go play for a district championship, not necessarily go play (a possible season-ending game).
That pressure of the season being over is off their shoulders and now they can go play, and that helps.”
Neither defense was able to mount a consistent challenge to either team’s running attack, and both offenses were only forced to punt once.
“We told our defense at halftime if we could stop them one time … we’d be fine. Whoever had the ball last was going to win,” Kelley said.
In the loss, Manzano running back Rodney Ferguson churned out 195 yards on 24 carries and scored all Manzano’s points, including four touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions. On occasion, the 193-pound senior tailback would drag as many as three Wildcat defenders like luggage two, three and four extra yards.
“Ferguson is a (heck) of a running back,” Kelley said. “He’s a hard runner. He’s not overly fast but he’s hard to bring down and we didn’t do a good job of tackling him tonight.”
In a seesaw game that saw three lead changes and several shifts in momentum, both teams opened the game with big plays: A 60-yard run by Williams that helped Clovis jump to an early 3-0 lead, and a 75-yard kickoff return by Ferguson that helped the Monarchs tally a 6-3 lead midway through the first quarter.
A 55-yard interception return by Wildcat linebacker Jeff Epps to the 1-yard line set up the Wildcats first touchdown with 3:26 left in the first quarter.
Wildcat Jarod Baldwin’s blocked punt helped Clovis offense mount a 28-20 lead after Epps, who was playing quarterback for a briefly injured Props, hit Mario Caswell on a 15-yard touchdown pass.
The Wildcats never trailed again, even though the Monarchs cut the lead to three (31-28) early in the fourth quarter and mounted a brief rally in the final minutes of the game.
“I felt in a lot of ways we outplayed them tonight,” Manzano coach Aaron Ocampo said. “We just made mistakes that cost us the game.”
And the season.
Following his last high school football game, senior defensive lineman John Hearn knelt at midfield more than 20 minutes after the final whistle and shed a tear or two while watching what was left of the Monarch fans exit the stands.