Clovis defenders Carlos Gallo (left) and Jonathan Sweet sandwich Rio Grande QB Doug McDaniel. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.
By Rick White
Rio Grande did something to an Eric Roanhaus-coached team that no one has been able to do for more than a quarter of a century — beat the Clovis Wildcats in the first round of the playoffs.
The Ravens did it by controlling the clock and the ball, frustrating the Wildcats with a pair of time-consuming touchdown drives in the second half en route to a stunning 21-18 win Saturday afternoon in a Class 5A state playoff game at wind-blown Leon Williams Stadium.
Clovis came into the game 21-0 in first-round playoff games under Roanhaus, winner of 10 state titles.
Senior quarterback Doug McDaniel led the way for Rio Grande, rushing for 96 yards and a pair of short touchdowns on 25 carries against a Clovis defense that simply couldn’t stop Rio Grande’s wishbone offense.
‘‘I figured whoever snapped the ball most would win,’’ Rio Grande coach Kelly Wilson said. ‘‘They run the ball well and we run the ball well. We got a little skittish in the second quarter, but the kids regrouped in the third quarter and took control.’’
Wilson also said his team was mature enough to take the partisan Clovis crowd out of the game. He said the focus all week was on being physical and executing.
‘‘Whatever I say and whatever I focus on is what they focus on,’’ he said. ‘‘We weren’t worried about how many purple shirts were in the stands.’’
The Ravens (8-3), making their first state playoff appearance since 1998, face La Cueva in the semifinals. La Cueva routed defending state champion Las Cruces High 63-0.
Despite being dominated most of the way, Clovis (8-3) had a chance at the end to pull out a win.
After cutting the lead to 21-18 on Phillip Williams’ 1-yard run, Clovis took over at its 38 with 3:10 left in the game.
But quarterback John Props was sacked for an 8-yard loss on first down. Two incomplete passes and a 10-yard run later and the Ravens were able to run out the clock.
“We just sent an extra guy,” Wilson said of the sack. “They had pretty much figured out what we were doing so we sent an extra guy from a different place.”
Clovis, which rebounded from a 1-2 start to win the District 4-5A title and earn its 22nd playoff appearance in the last 26 years, was simply outplayed, Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said.
‘‘We didn’t do a good job of blocking and tackling,’’ Kelley said. ‘‘They didn’t do anything we didn’t practice against, they didn’t run anything we didn’t expect. They just beat us.”
“This group has come a long way,” said Kelley, scanning a quiet locker room filled with dejected players, many peeling off the purple-and-white jerseys for the last time. “They were doubted by a lot of people in town and around the state. They have nothing to hang their heads about.”
Linebacker Jeff Epps was among the 28 seniors who played their last game for Clovis.
“We just couldn’t figure out what they were doing and stop it,” said Epps, the team’s leading tackler on the season. “We didn’t wrap up.”
Just as surprisingly, a Wildcat offense that was averaging better than 31 points a game had trouble running the ball against a stunting Ravens defense, as Williams had his string of six-straight 100-yard rushing games snapped.
Clovis, which started the game by going three-and-out on its first three series, took advantage of back-to-back turnovers to take a 10-7 halftime lead.
Passes of 33 yards to Williams and 13 yards to Ben Teconchuk (four catches for 83 yards) set up Chris Phillips’ 1-yard run and Jason Seefeld booted a 27-yard field goal with a little less than two minutes left in the half.
But Rio Grande regrouped at halftime and dominated the first 18 minutes of the second half, putting together scoring drives of 66 and 43 yards, with McDaniel finishing off both of them with touchdowns from 3 yards and 1 yard out.
“I looked around the locker room, and basically, we looked frustrated,” Wilson said. “I was mad and they were mad because we absolutely killed ourselves in the second quarter.”
The Ravens ran 29 plays in the two drives, with Clovis going three-and-out in their possession between McDaniel’s two scores.
McDaniel’s quarterback sneak on fourth-and-goal at the 1 put the Ravens up 21-10 with 6:18 left in the game.