By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer
With the Class 5A state playoffs looming, Clovis will attempt to lock down the District 4-5A title and a top seed as the Wildcats hit the road today to face Carlsbad at Ralph Bowyer Stadium.
With a win in their regular-season finale, the second-ranked Wildcats will capture their fourth straight 4-5A title and an automatic berth in the state playoffs.
The top two teams in each district automatically qualify for the 12-team state tournament, and the top four seeds earn a first-round bye.
The Cavemen (3-6, 0-1 district) had a bye last week. Meanwhile, the Cats (6-3, 1-0) are coming off a 40-9 drubbing of Hobbs in which they rushed for 417 yards.
“It’s always a tough place to play and we have to compete down there no matter what the records are,” Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said. “The idea is us going down winning, and going into the playoffs with a win and a district championship.”
If the Cavemen beat Clovis, all three teams in the district will be tied with a 1-1 record, meaning the order of finish will be decided by point differential. In tiebreakers, point differential is capped at 13 to dissuade teams from running up the score.
Clovis is currently at plus-13, and the Cavemen are at minus-3 from their 27-24 loss to Hobbs. Carlsbad would need to beat Clovis by eight points or more to win the district title.
Carlsbad operates out of the spread offense, a style the Cats have seen in their last two games against Hobbs and Artesia. Quarterback Nathan Clark, a sturdy 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior, is effective on the run and in the passing game, Kelley said.
“He’s a lot like the Hobbs guy,” Kelley said, referring to Eagles quarterback Teron Bolton. “They don’t have one particular go-to receiver. They throw it to several different people.”
Juniors Layne Norton and Brandon Melendrez are two of the receivers the Cavemen like to employ in a combination of four-receiver sets, Kelley said.
Carlsbad’s defense is led by senior strong safety Bubba Forrest (6-2, 205), who has committed to the University of New Mexico. The Cavemen will try to contain Clovis’ two-headed monster of a running game in senior Brian Mead and junior Manuel Robles.
“(Forrest) is their best football player, period,” Kelley said. “He’ll be the one in there stunting, and we’ll have to know where he is.”
That’s where Robles will try to use his blocking skills.
“I’m just going to do my best and what I can,” said Robles, who topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark last week, “and keep him out of Brian’s way.”
Mead is 337 yards shy of Doug Cavanaugh’s school single-season rushing record of 2,197 yards set in 1992. But records are not on the team’s mind, according to Robles.
“The team’s attitude toward the last couple of games has changed,” he said. “We’re getting harder work in practice and getting fired up. And hopefully this can be the start of a winning streak.”
Clovis at Carlsbad
7 p.m. today
Ralph Bowyer Stadium
Records: Clovis 5-3 (1-0 District 4-5A), Carlsbad 3-6 (0-1).
Coaches: Clovis, Eric Roanhaus; Carlsbad, Shaun Standard.
On the radio: KWKA-AM 680, KTQM-FM 99.9, KCLV-AM 1240, KICA-FM 98.3, KKYC-FM 102.3.
Carlsbad players to watch: Nathan Clark, QB, 6-2, 190, Jr.; Bubba Forrest, SS, 6-1, 205, Sr.; Brandon Melendrez, WR, 6-1, 175, Jr.
Last meeting: 2005, the Cats picked off the then-sophomore Clark four times and held him to 65 yards passing in the 42-6 defensive showcase.
Keys to the game: The Cats will earn their 20th district title under coach Eric Roanhaus as long as the secondary repeats its performances against Hobbs.
Quotable: “As we get prepared for the rest of the season, everyone knows they have to stop our run, at some point between now and hopefully that first weekend in December, a couple of receivers and Jordan are going to have to make a play.” — Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley, on how junior quarterback Jordan Mendoza might have big plays in the near future.
— Compiled by Greg Price