Defense and a strong running game helped Clovis turn its season around. CNJ photo illustration by Eric Kluth.
By Rick White
The Clovis Wildcats’ season included plenty of highs and lows en route to an 8-3 record and a state playoff berth, starting with the untimely death of assistant coach Pete Hurst before the season started and ending with a stunning playoff loss to Rio Grande.
In between, the Wildcats rebounded from a 1-2 start to win their second District 4-5A title in three years, capped by a heart-stopping triple overtime win over Carlsbad.
Clovis won seven-straight games despite several key injuries, including the loss of its starting quarterback after the first game of the season.
Here’s an abbreviated look at the season:
Mayfield 32, Clovis 7
Aug. 29 at Las Cruces
Key to game: Quarterback Jeremy Lawson and running back Jackie Ruiz both top 100 yards rushing as Mayfield finishes with more than 400 yards of offense.
Impact: Wildcats not only lose in a lopsided fashion, but later in the week learn senior quarterback Ryan Denton is out for the season due to reoccurring concussions.
Top Cats: Senior running back Shea Chase rushes for 40 yards and a touchdown.
Quotable: “That was the worst feeling,” said Lawson about a slow-moving lightning and rain storm that delayed the start of the game by about two hours. “First we had to wait, then they told us we could play, then they told us we had to wait again.”
Clovis 43, Roswell 0
Sept. 6 at Roswell
Keys to the game: Clovis held Roswell to 65 yards and forced two turnovers a week after allowing more than 400 yards to Mayfield.
Impact: Clovis rebounded from a first-week blowout to even its record at 1-1.
Top Cats: In his first varsity start, junior quarterback John Props rushes for 86 yards and two touchdowns and throws for two more scores. Junior defensive tackle Alex Everett has two of CHS’ four first-half sacks.
Quotable: “I felt pretty good going into the game,” Props said. “I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be. I was more excited than nervous.”
Highland 33, Clovis 13
Sept. 12 at Clovis
Keys to the game: Highland scored on its first two possessions and clinched veteran coach Judge Chavez’ first win at Leon Williams Stadium in five tries with a back-breaking 80-yard drive in the third quarter that put the Hornets up 26-6.
Impact: Clovis was manhandled for the second time in three weeks.
Top Cats: Props passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Ben Teconchuk caught two passes for 66 yards, including a 29-yard TD.
Quotable:“They didn’t do anything we hadn’t seen in practice,” Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said. “We just didn’t execute. All they ran all night was two plays. You’ve got to make plays and we didn’t make plays. It’s as simple as that.”
Clovis 42, Valley 0
Sept. 20 at Albuquerque
Keys to the game: Clovis rushes for a so-far season-best 257 yards while a much-maligned defense posts its second shutout in three games.
Impact: Clovis begins what will become a seven-game winning streak.
Top Cats: Junior Phillip Williams rushes for 64 yards in first game back from an elbow injury and Teconchuk catches two TD passes. Jeff Epps records 13 tackles and Angelo Sandoval adds an interception.
Quotable: “I told them at halftime that normally this is where we make adjustments,” said Valley coach Vince Collins, who let his players call the plays in the second half. “I told them I would let them make the plays because it’s not going to matter if they don’t block anybody.”
Clovis 31, Tascosa 7
Sept. 26 at Clovis
Keys to the game: Clovis forces eight turnovers while scoring 30 or more points for the third time in four games.
Impact: Clovis puts together back-to-back wins for the first time.
Top Cats: Williams becomes the first Wildcat to rush for more than 100 yards. Senior defensive end Jarod Baldwin records four QB sacks and senior strong safety Carlos Gallo adds a pair of interceptions.
Quotable: “Coach Roanhaus doesn’t run a whole lot of fakes, but it was something we saw on film that they brought 10 guys every time (to try to block punts),” Kelley said about a fake punt that resulted in a 67-yard TD pass from Epps to Teconchuk. “We talked about it and put it in.”
Clovis 42, Goddard 6
Oct. 3 at Clovis
Key to the game: Clovis scores twice during a three-minute span of the second quarter en route to a 28-0 halftime lead.
Impact: Clovis finishes its non-district schedule at 4-2 with its third-straight win.
Top Cats: Mark Young returns a punt 67 yards for a touchdown. Props throws for two TDs and Williams rushes for 132 yards.
Quotable: “Ben told me his guy was playing the run,” Props said about a 37-yard TD pass to Teconchuk. “When I saw the (single) coverage I knew Ben could beat his man, so I just threw it up there and Ben made a great catch.”
Clovis 31, Eldorado 0
Oct. 18 at Albuquerque
Key to the game: The Wildcats hold Eldorado to 120 yards, including minus 4 yards rushing, and six first downs.
Impact: Clovis wins its district opener.
Top Cats: Junior free safety Elliott Hita returns an interception 17 yards for a TD and senior running back Mark Replogle hooks up with Young for a 44-yard score on a halfback option.
Quotable: “The defense did a great job,” Kelley said. “They kept us in the game until the offense could get going.”
Clovis 41, Hobbs 0
Oct. 24 at Clovis
Key to the game: The Wildcats run up a season-high 416 yards while going over the 40-point mark for the fourth time.
Impact: Clovis improves to 2-0 in district while beating its Lea County rival for the third-straight year.
Quotable: “He was a load,” Epps said of 5-foot-9, 265-pound Hobbs fullback William Waldron, who finished with 67 yards on a team-high 17 carries. “The thing was not only is he a load but he also runs so low to the ground.”
Clovis 34, Manzano 28
Nov. 8 at Albuquerque
Key to the games: The Wildcats hold Manzano to eight points in the second half and score two touchdowns off turnovers.
Impact: Clovis clinches its third-straight state playoff berth with one game left in the regular season.
Top Cats: Senior tight end Mario Caswell doubles his season total with two catches for 38 yards, including a 15-yard TD pass that gives Clovis the lead for good. Senior nose guard Wade Lopez forces and recovers a fumble that set up the last of Jason Seefeld’s four field goals.
Quotable: “We told our defense at halftime if we could stop them one time … we’d be fine,” Kelley said.
Clovis 31, Carlsbad 24 3 OT
Nov. 14 at Clovis
Key to the game: Clovis sends the game into overtime with a touchdown and two-point conversion with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Impact: Clovis wins its second District 4-5A title in three years and earns home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Top Cats: Hita catches a 37-yard pass on fourth-and-18 to keep game-tying drive alive. Seefeld kicks three field goals, including one in the second OT. Junior defensive tackle Jason Burns records 14 tackles.
Quotable: “When we scored (to tie the game) it changed the momentum and we were able to feed off of that,” Kelley said. “Even when (Carlsbad) scored the first time in overtime the kids still thought they were going to win the game.”
Rio Grande 21, Clovis 18
Nov. 22 at Clovis
Key to the game: Rio Grande puts together scoring drives of 66 yards and 43 yards to start the second half, running 29 plays compared to three for Clovis.
Impact: Clovis lost in the opening round of the playoffs for the first time in 22 games under head coach Eric Roanhaus.
Top Cats: Sophomore linebacker Jonathan Sweet recovers a fumble and a squib kick to set up two scores as Clovis takes a 10-7 halftime lead. Teconchuk catches four passes for 83 yards.
Quotable: “This group has come a long way,” Kelley said. “They were doubted by a lot of people in town and around the state. They have nothing to hang their heads about.”