Clovis junior Devin Sweet makes a shoe-string tackle on Hobbs’ Nathan Ford during a fourth-quarter punt return. (Staff photo: Rick White)
By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
A backup quarterback who had never previously taken a varsity snap nearly cost Clovis the district lead.
Playing more like a playoff veteran than an untested sophomore, Taryn Bolton spearheaded a stunning Hobbs fourth-quarter rally with his clutch passing. He had the underdog Eagles perched 6 yards away from tying the scoring in the game’s waning moments.
But his storybook introduction to varsity football was shortcircuited by a rookie mistake, and Jonathan Sweet was there for Clovis to pounce on it.
Sweet scooped up a Bolton lateral on a busted play and rumbled 65 yards for a touchdown in the game’s final seconds, enabling the Wildcats to escape with a 27-13 win Friday in a District 4-5A contest at Leon Williams Stadium.
Senior running back Phillip Williams had another big game for the Wildcats with 191 yards and a touchdown, and John Props threw for a score as Clovis (5-3, 2-0 in district) won its fourth straight game.
With the win, Clovis gets to keep “The Rebel” trophy that symbolizes the rivalry between the two schools. Clovis is 27-10 against Hobbs since the miniature replica of a cannon was first awarded in 1967.
Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said the Wildcats trouble started long before the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t practice very well this week,” Kelley said. “The kids have to learn that we need to be prepared every week. It’s good to win a game when we didn’t play well. But we’re not talented enough to do that too many weeks.”
Clovis had a chance to put the game out of reach after going up 20-3 with four minutes left in the third quarter on a 14-yard run by Terrance Walker.
But Hobbs took advantage of a fake punt and two fourth-quarter Clovis turnovers to make the Wildcats sweat.
“Our biggest mistake was not putting them away in the third quarter,” Kelley said. “If we had done that, it wouldn’t have been a game.
“But give Hobbs credit, they made it a game.”
Trailing 20-13, the Eagles (5-4, 1-1) reached the Clovis 6-yard line, but a sack and a delay of game penalty left the Eagles with third-and-goal at the 20 with less than 30 seconds to go.
Bolton, who finished 7 of 9 passing for 79 yards and a TD, tried to make the best of a broken play but his lateral to running back Josh Martinez squirted loose.
Sweet said he saw the ball on the ground and just scooped it up and starting running.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it,” Sweet said. “I thought I saw the shadow of somebody catching up to me.
“But it was an awesome feeling.”
After being outscored 90-6 the last two years by Clovis, the Eagles (5-4, 1-1) are much improved this season under third-year coach Phillip Royal.
Between starting quarterback Ryan Herrera and Bolton, the Eagles threw for 169 yards and Martinez added 84 on the ground out of their one-back, spread offense. Martinez was replacing star running back Eddie Jackson, who was out of state attending a family funeral.
Clovis countered the Eagles’ three- and four-receiver sets with a nickel package that included four down linemen and an extra defensive back.
“What hurt us is we didn’t get any pressure up the middle,” Kelley said. “I thought we did a good job of covering downfield. Even when they made some big plays, we were right there.”
Senior Clovis defensive lineman Juan Gutierrez said the Wildcats overlooked Hobbs.
“I think we had some big heads after last week (a 28-0 win at Carlsbad),” said Gutierrez, who had a sack and helped cause Bolton’s miscue on the last drive. “Hobbs had some fast players and was probably a little better than we thought.”
Bolton came in late in the third quarter when starter Herrera injured his shoulder. Herrera, who was second in Class 5A with more than 1,100 passing yards, completed 8 of 19 passes for 90 yards before leaving the game.
Bolton’s favorite receiver was Kyle Holmes, who caught six passes for 84 yards, including a 9-yarder in the left corner of the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.
A pair of third-and-long completions by Bolton kept the final drive alive until Gutierrez and Sweet foiled Hobbs’ upset bid.
Kelley said he never lost confidence in his defense despite a stomach-gnawing last few minutes.
“I kept thinking we were going to make a big play any minute,” Kelley said. “It just took a little longer than I had hoped.”
Clovis took a 14-3 halftime lead, driving 92 yards for a touchdown in final four minutes of the first half. Williams scampered 40 yards to the Hobbs 27. Props hit Jacob Jones in the left corner of the end zone from 4 yards out to finish off the eight-play drive.
Williams went over the 1,000-yard rushing mark in the first half and has 1,121 yards on the season.