CHAMPIONSHIP SATURDAY: Exceeding expectations

Tanner Fickling has rushed for more than 800 yards this season. (File photo)

By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer

Despite a 12-game winning streak, Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said his team has yet to put together a complete game.

“We still haven’t played a full four quarters,” Roanhaus said. “Hopefully that lays ahead of us.”

The Wildcats have one more shot at it — the Class 5A championship game Saturday against undefeated Mayfield.

Despite the search for the perfect game, Roanhaus said the 2005 Cats have met his expectations this season.

“They have played up to their potential,” Roanhaus said. “So many times teams don’t play up to their potential, but this team has. All and all they’ve won 12 in a row because they played up to their abilities.”

Roanhaus said coming into this season, he had questions about two players, and both have come up big this season.

“I knew (Brian) Mead and (Tanner) Fickling were good running backs. I had them last year,” said Roanhaus, who is making his 18th state-championship game appearance in 28 seasons at Clovis. “The two question marks were Devin (Sweet) and Rishard (Matthews).

“Rishard has developed into a go-to receiver, and Devin has gotten him the ball. Devin has come through. He’s probably the most improved of those four people in the backfield.”

Sweet, who also plays free safety, rebounded from a slow start in his first year at quarterback to complete 50 of 91 passes for 1,034 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Ronahaus was quick to give the offensive line credit for Sweet’s strong play.

“Our line has allowed one sack all year,” Roanhaus said. “Through 13 games they’ve given up one sack — that’s remarkable.”

Matthews has been on the receiving ends of 12 of those TD tosses. A junior playing his first year of organized football, he has blossomed into one of the state’s top playmakers, averaging 20 yards per catch and 43 yards a punt return.

Meanwhile, deceptively powerful 5-foot-8, 168-pound Mead is quietly closing in on 1,900 yards and has scored 21 touchdowns this season behind a beefy offensive line led by senior center Aaron Simon.

The Wildcats’ signature win was knocking off two-time defending champion La Cueva in Albuquerque, stopping the Bears’ winning streak at 28 games.

“The big game for us was the La Cueva game,” Clovis assistant Darren Kelley said of the 10-7 win. “It kinda got things going in the right direction. It made a lot of kids believe in what we were doing.”

Going on the road and beating the defending state champ is great, but some of the players said seeing senior fullback Tanner Fickling have a career game against Las Cruces in the first round of the playoffs was their favorite game this season.

“It was cool seeing Tanner in his breakout game,” senior Jordan Moore said. “He’s a workhorse. He doesn’t have a whole lot of yards every week, but he does his job every time. It was cool to see him get a bunch of yards and touchdowns.”

Fickling scored on three runs of 65 yards or longer in the first quarter and finished with 237 yards on only six carries as Clovis won 42-6.

“There are times that you think about it and it’s like it didn’t happen,” Fickling said. “It was like a dream come true. I’ll never forget it for sure.

“If we run 100 plays and I block on 98 of them, it’s fine with me as long as we get the ‘W.’ But (rushing for 200 yards) is not bad, not bad at all.”

Roanhaus said the first quarter of that game was a first for him.

“I’ve never had a group come out offensively like they did in the Las Cruces game,” he said. “To have three big plays like we did in the first quarter and be up 21-0. I’ve been coaching for 36 years and I’ve never had a team do that in the first quarter.”

Clovis finished with 447 total yards on only 18 plays from scrimmage — averaging 24.8 yards per play.

Defensively, Roanhaus said the Cats hit their stride at the last game of the regular season.

“We went about three games in a row there — Carlsbad, Cruces, Manzano — that were potentially shutout games. We played good enough to shut them out, we just messed up here and there.

Clovis allowed a touchdown in the final minute of each of those games, but still outscored its opponents 133-24.

“Improvement on defense is why we are contenders in the state,” Roanhaus said. “I’ve always said ‘The best defensive team is going to win the state championship.’ We’ve made strides since the Artesia game to become a good defensive football team.”

From the start of the season to the win at Artesia, the Wildcats allowed only 12.6 points per game. Since, Clovis has shaved that number to 9.4.

Clovis’ only loss of the season was 7-0 at Mayfield in their season opener.