By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Matt Ulibarri blocked his fourth field goal in four games in the closing seconds Saturday night, preserving Clovis High’s 10-7 victory over two-time Class 5A champion La Cueva at Wilson Stadium in Albuquerque.
Despite that, the senior cornerback said he wished it hadn’t come down to that — the field goal was set up by a 48-yard pass completion to the Bears’ Matt Frame, whom Ulibarri was covering.
“They should’ve never gotten down there,” Ulibarri reflected Monday. “But I guess it just made the game more suspenseful.
“That (blocked field goal) was all adrenaline. I got burned deep (on the pass play); that’s the only reason they were down there.”
The result snapped top-ranked La Cueva’s 28-game winning streak — dating to a 10-0 quarterfinal playoff loss to the Wildcats in 2002.
CHS assistant coach Darren Kelley said the Bears (2-1) have come back to the pack slightly from their dominating state title teams.
“La Cueva’s a good football team, no doubt about that,” CHS assistant coach Darren Kelley said. “There’s just a big difference between having seven (NCAA) Division I(-caliber) football players on your team and not having them. Now, they’re a little more human.”
Clovis (3-1), ranked third in 5A going in, trailed 7-3 until putting together an 80-yard drive, scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 1:30 left when Brian Mead, led by fullbacks Tanner Fickling and Cade Wheeler, powered over the right side out of the wishbone to score on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1.
Senior quarterback Devin Sweet completed two key passes to junior Rishard Matthews to keep the drive going, the latter a 15-yarder to the La Cueva 15 on fourth-and-8.
Sweet said he felt good about the Cats’ chances going into that possession.
“We had the momentum because they’d just missed a field goal,” he said. “Just the thought of beating La Cueva had everyone going.”
Ulibarri was in position to block La Cueva’s field goal try just before the winning drive, but kicker Ryan Hightower sent the ball wide right.
“It all revolves around (senior Chris) Finch,” Ulibarri said of blocking kicks. “Chris has to hit the end; if he doesn’t, the end would block me.”
Sweet said coaches are simply trying to take advantage of Uilbarri’s athleticism.
“He’s not real big, but he’s fast,” Sweet said of Ulibarri. “When Finch gets his block, (the opponent has) to get Matt or he’ll block the kick.”
Kelley said the Cats played well overall, especially on defense.
“The best thing about it was both teams played hard,” he said. “We were able to take advantage at the end.
“We did a good job most of the night of not letting them have big plays. I was pleased with our effort and our hitting — everyone played 100 mph on every snap.”
Both teams face stiff challenges this week. La Cueva takes on second-ranked Mayfield (4-0) on Saturday in Las Cruces, while the Cats travel Friday to fourth-ranked Rio Rancho (3-1).
“It’s kind of like coach (Eric Roanhaus) says, ‘The target’s on us now,’” Sweet said. “It’d be no good to beat a great team like La Cueva if we lose this week.”