Clovis High linebacker Cade Wheeler (26) and Derrick Phillips hit Cibola quarterback Jonathan Mader, forcing him to lose control of the ball during Saturday’s game in Albuquerque. Mader was able to recover the fumble. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer
Luke Masters is big. Not Notorious B.I.G. big, but big.
At 6-foot-6 and tipping the scales at 240 pounds, Masters towers over most of his Clovis teammates.
Then there’s Blake Hicks, Masters’ counterpart at defensive end. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, Hicks’ main weapon is a burst of speed off the line of scrimmage.
Masters leads Clovis in sacks with three and tackles for losses with seven, while Hicks has tallied 5 1/2 tackles on the year.
The seniors will play key roles in trying to put pressure on Artesia junior quarterback Landry Jones when two of the state’s top programs meet today at Leon Williams Stadium.
The 6-5, 215-pound Jones is the triggerman in the Bulldogs’ spread offense that is averaging almost 41 points a game. He has passed for 1,544 yards for the unbeaten Bulldogs (6-0), who are ranked No. 1 in Class 4A.
Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said Landry has a strong and accurate arm and a bevy of sure-handed receivers to throw to, led by senior Scott Poe. He is third in 4A in receiving yards with 539 yards.
“What’s more impressive than their quarterback, is their receivers catch everything,” Kelley said. “They don’t have too many drops.”
Last year, Clovis beat Artesia in a 42-35 shootout in which the Bulldogs passed for 486 passing yards.
Masters and Hicks helped harass Cibola senior quarterback Jonathan Mader into a nightmarish first half last week. Considered one of the state’s top quarterbacks, the 6-4, 200-pound junior finished the first half with only four yards passing and minus-10 rushing in a game eventually won by Clovis 21-13.
Masters was disturbed the Wildcats weren’t able to duplicate their strong effort in the second half.
“I think we just got ahead of ourselves after the first half, realizing we were doing well,” Masters said. “We had the room to slack off a little bit. People just started giving less effort.”
Artesia coach Cooper Henderson, who has led the Bulldogs program since 1989, said his team has been blessed with talented receivers, but they must have sound fundamentals against the Cats.
“They block and tackle better than anyone in the state,” Henderson said. “Our focus is to be playing our best before district play. They’re definitely going to make you better and you can learn from a game like this.”
Even if today’s game is a learning experience for Artesia, Henderson said the Bulldogs intend to limit their turnovers and capitalize on the opportunities given to them.
“They’re going to make you make plays,” Kelley said of the Bulldogs. “They’re going to make you beat them, and they’re not going to give it to you.”
Protecting Jones is 6-5, 240-pound senior right tackle Brian McCaleb, one of the few linemen Masters will face all year that equal him in size and strength.
“I’m sure they’re going to be used to a pass rush,” Masters said. “I just have to make sure I get low and get underneath them, and not let them get underneath me.”
Artesia at Clovis
When: 7 p.m. today at Leon Williams Stadium
Records: Artesia 6-0, Clovis 5-2.
Coaches: Artesia, Cooper Henderson, 18th year; Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 29th.
On the radio: KWKA 680, KTQM 99.9, KCLV 1240, KICA 98.3, KKYC 102.3.
Aretsia players to watch: Landry Jones, QB, 6-5, 215, Jr.; Jeremy Durna, RB, 5-10, 170, Sr.; Coly Hokett, WR, 5-7, 140, Jr.
Last meeting: Last season, the two teams squared off for the first time in 16 years with Clovis winning 42-35 in Artesia as the teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense. The Cats’ secondary gave up 486 passing yards and four touchdowns to then Artesia quarterback Denny Burnett.
Keys to the game: Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said the game will be a true test for the entire Clovis defense. The line will have to pressure Jones to make errant throws, while the secondary must limit yards after the catch, he said.
Quotable: “They’re going to score. But they still have to find a way to tackle Brian and Manuel.” — Kelley, on the Wildcats’ running back duo of Brian Mead and Manuel Robles.
— Compiled by Greg Price