Cats aiming to crack Rio Grande’s wishbone

Clovis junior Phillip Williams has rushed for nearly 900 yards and scored nine touchdowns this seasoin desoite missing three games. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.

By Rick White

Rio Grande coach Kelly Wilson readily admits he intends to be a ball hog in Saturday’s Class 5A state quarterfinal game against Clovis.

The more his wishbone-based team controls the ball against the playoff-savvy Wildcats the better chance the Ravens have of pulling off an upset, he said.

“Both teams are a lot alike in that they like to run and control the ball,” said Wilson, in his eighth season at Rio Grande. “Clovis seems to consistently be able to do that.
“I think basically the team that snaps the ball the most is going to win the game.”

The Ravens (7-3), who finished second in District 1-5A, are making their first playoff appearance in five years behind a senior class that has paid it dues, according to Wilson.
“It’s just a good corps of seniors,” he said. “They all played as sophomores. We were headed to the playoffs last year before we faltered badly at the end.”

Meanwhile, the fourth-ranked Wildcats (8-2) will be looking to continue a remarkable string of early playoff successes under veteran coach Eric Roanhaus, who is 21-0 in first-round games.

But the Wildcats are coming off an emotional 31-24 triple-overtime win over Carlsbad that earned the Wildcats the 4-5A title and a first-round game at home.

Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said he’s not worried about a letdown.

“You could tell at Monday’s practice we were tired,” Kelley said. “But by Wednesday, we looked pretty decent.
“It’s the playoffs so I don’t think they’ll have a hard time getting up.”

What he is concerned about is Ravens senior quarterback and playmaker Doug McDaniel operating behind a huge offensive line.

“We haven’t handled teams that line up and run right at us too well,” Kelley said.

The 5-foot-10, 172-pound McDaniel has rushed for a team-high 784 yards as the Ravens average 23.3 points a game. He’s also thrown for more than 500 yards.
“He’s a good athlete and a great competitor,” Kelley said. “He does a great job of running the option.”

Fullback Simon Ashe is second on the team with 657 yards.

The Wildcats counter with a ground game led by lightning-quick junior Phillip Williams and the accurate passing of junior John Props against a blitz-happy Ravens defense.

“They’re going to stunt someone from somewhere on every play,” Kelley said. “We just have to be patient because eventually we’re going to break one.”

Williams is closing in on a 1,000-yard season despite missing the first three games of the season while Props has completed nearly 50 percent of his passes for 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Clovis is averaging nearly 30 points a game.

“They keep attacking you with their best stuff,” Wilson said. “They don’t run a lot of plays but they give you a lot of looks.”

Wilson didn’t seemed concerned the Ravens are making their first road trip in years outside the Albuquerque area or that Leon Williams Stadium and the Clovis mystique has intimidated more than one visitor.

“This group of kids are really motivated,” Wilson said. “They’re confident in their abilities.

“The game is won and lost between the lines during the game.”

Game day
Class 5A playoffs

Rio Grande (7-3)
at Clovis (8-2)
2 p.m. Saturday
Leon Williams Stadium

How they got here: Rio Grande finished second in District 1-5A. Clovis is the District 4-5A champion.

Last week: Rio Grande beat West Mesa 47-15. Clovis beat Carlsbad 31-24 in 3 OTs.

Last meeting: 1989, Clovis beat Rio Grande 28-21 in state quarterfinals.

Last playoff appearance: Rio Grande, 1998, lost to La Cueva in quarterfinals. Clovis, 2002, lost to Las Cruces High in semifinals.

Coaches: Rio Grande, Kelly Wilson, 8th season. Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 26th.

Basic offense/defense: Rio Grande, Wishbone/50; Clovis, Pro-set/50

Rio Grande players to watch: Doug McDaniel, QB, 5-10, 172, Sr.; Jeremiah Lovato, G/LB, 6-2, 235, Sr.; John Lueras, RB/LB, 5-10, 168/Sr.; Robert Salazar, DE, 5-9, 160, Sr.

Keys to the game: Clovis needs to stop McDaniel (784 yards) on the option. Rio Grande is also be big up front and runs right at opponents, which has given Clovis problems this season. The Wildcats need to stay patient against a stunt-happy Rio Grande defense. The big plays will come.

Quotable: “I think basically the team that takes the most snaps is going to be the winner.” — Rio Grande coach Kelly Wilson

On the radio: KWCA, 680 AM, KCLV, 1240 AM, KKYC, 102.3 FM or KICA, 980 AM

Next week: Winner faces winner of La Cueva and Las Cruces High in semfinals.

Weather: Partly sunny with a high of 70.