Cats hunt 4-5A crown

Junior Elliott Hita will start at free safety in place of Mark Young, who injured his knee. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

Rick White

Unfinished business.

Webster’s Dictionary describes it as something incomplete.

For the Clovis Wildcats it means beating the Carlsbad Cavemen tonight and winning the District 4-5A title.

“We want to be remembered as district champions, not as somebody that just made the playoffs,” Clovis senior guard Philip Salazar said.

He said the Wildcats (7-2) have been overlooked all season and a win over the fourth-ranked Caveman (8-2) would send a message to the rest of the state that Clovis is a legitimate state-title contender.

Both teams enter the final game of the regular season undefeated in district play at 3-0 and have already clinched state-playoff berths.

Also at stake is a home game in the first round of the state playoffs, which is awarded to the district champion.
“We’ve talked to them all week about not being satisfied,” Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said. “They control their own destiny. They don’t have to rely on anything else.”
Carlsbad coach Kirk Potter said he’s only thinking about fifth-ranked Clovis.

“We’re just going to focus on the district championship; if we win it, we’ll worry about who and where we’re playing after that.”

The Cavemen rely on the running of senior Michael Munoz, game-breaking wide receiver Nathan Meeks and an aggressive physical defense that dominated Clovis in last year’s 27-6 win.

Seth Fuller will start for a second-straight week. He threw for three TDs last week.

“They do a good job of running the ball,” Kelley said. “Every snap is out of the shotgun but they’re a running team.”

When the Cavemen do throw the ball it’s usually to Meeks, a slippery 5-10, 160-pound senior receiver who has caught 31 passes for 858 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“He does a great job of getting open,” Kelley said. “He’s so quick and he runs great routes.

“He’s also a great punt and kick returner.”

Kelley said the Wildcats need to do a better job on defense than they did last week when they were torched for 194 yards and four touchdowns by Manzano senior running back Rodney Ferguson in a 34-28 win.

“We have to be a little more disciplined,” Kelley said. “We have to do a better job of staying down the line instead of getting upfield.

“We kind of did our own thing at times last week.”

Led by defensive tackle Hosea Graziano and middle linebacker J.J. Chavez, the Cavemen get a lot of penetration up front with their stunt packages. Salazar said it will be the Wildcats’ offensive line’s biggest challenge of the season.

“The big thing is we’re going to have to play hard every play because against a defense like that you never know when you’re going to bust one,” Salazar said.

The Wildcats have a game-breaker in junior Phillip Williams, who has rushed for 756 yards and scored seven touchdowns in six games, including back-to-back efforts of 141 and 195 yards.

“They’re noticeably improved on offense,” Potter said “I think (Williams) adds a lot of speed and (junior quarterback John Props) is quick and runs the option so well.

“They put a lot of pressure on you because they can run the ball and throw the ball — and throw it down field effectively.”

Game day

Impact: Both teams come into the District 4-5A game at 3-0. Winner is the district champion and hosts the District 1-5A runnerup in the first round of the playoffs.

Last meeting: 2002, Carlsbad beat Clovis 27-6.
Last week: Carlsbad beat Hobbs 49-28; Clovis beat Manzano 34-28.

Coaches: Carlsbad, Kirk Potter, 6th year; Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 26th.

Carlsbad players to watch: Nathan Meeks, WR/CB, 5-10, 160, Sr.; J.J. Chavez, LB, 5-7, 195, Sr.; Hosea Graziano, DT, 6-0, 215, Sr.; Michael Munoz, RB, 5-10, 175, Sr.; Justin Yandell, T, 6-3, 295, Sr.

Keys to the game: Clovis must hold its own up front against a Carlsbad team that is big and physical on both sides of the ball, especially on offense where the the Cavemen average 245 pounds a man. The Clovis defensive line averages slightly over 200 pounds a man. Meeks is is a game-breaker not only in the passing game but returning kicks and punts.

Notes: Last year’s win was Potter’s first in five tries against Clovis. The Cavemen have never won under Potter at Leon Williams Stadium … Carlsbad has won the district title two out of the last three years … The Cavemen have Class 5A’s leading receiver — Meeks with 31 catches for 858 yards and 10 TDs — and the third-leading rusher — Munoz with 1,153 yards and nines TD, according to the Albuquerque Journal’s prep statistics. … Phillip Williams has rushed for 141 and 195 yards the last two weeks … Clovis is averaging better than 30 points a game despite not having a player among the top seven in rushing, passing or receiving … The game will feature two of the better kickers in the state in Carlsbad’s Joey Ongaga and Clovis’ Jason Seefeld. Ongaga, an all-state soccer player, kicked the game-winning field goal in Carlsbad’s 17-15 win over Manzano while Seefeld kicked four FGs in last week’s 34-28 win over the Monarchs.
Injury update: Clovis senior WR/FS Mark Young is out this week with a knee injury and could miss the rest of the season. Junior Elliott Hita will replace him at FS… Carlsbad senior QB Brandon Griffith is also out. Junior Seth Fuller will start.

Quotable: “We’ve talked to them all week about not being satisfied. They control their own destiny. They don’t have to rely on anything else.”
— Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley