CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Clovis High School senior corner Jaden Isler returns a punt during Thursday afternoon’s practice session. The Wildcats open their season today against defending 5A champions Mayfield High School.
By Rick White: CNJ Managing Editor
It only seems right that the Clovis Wildcats get first crack at ending the Mayfield Trojans’ 27-game winning streak.
The Wildcats are the last team to beat the two-time defending state champions — 15-7 in a state quarterfinal playoff game in 2004.
Clovis opens its season against Mayfield for the sixth straight year tonight in Las Cruces.
“It’s a good way to start the season,” said Mayfield coach Michael Bradley, a longtime Trojans assistant who took the reins of the southern New Mexico powerhouse when his father, Jim Bradley, retired after the 2005 season.
“We feel if we do a good job of preparing for Clovis, we’ll be prepared for the season,” he said.
“We always get pumped to play Clovis because we know we’re probably going to see them again later in the season.”
The Wildcats and Trojans have meet three times in the playoffs in the last six years, including twice in the state title game, with Clovis winning in 2001 and Mayfield in 2005.
The Trojans, ranked No. 1 in the Albuquerque Journal’s preseason coaches’ poll, are led by slippery senior quarterback Matt Sandoval and a handful of starters returning on both sides of the ball.
Despite his diminutive stature — 5-foot-6, 160 pounds — Sandoval put up big numbers last season, rushing for more than 1,300 yards and completing better than 50 percent of his passes from another 1,300-plus yards.
Senior running back Nathan Enriquez is another big-play option, while mammoth lineman Jeremy Gutierrez (6-3, 310) anchors the Trojans’ always-stingy defense.
Bradley describes Sandoval as a running back who happens to throw the ball well. Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley called the pint-sized left-hander trouble.
Kelley said the Wildcats, ranked third in the Journal poll, will try to keep Sandoval from getting outside the pocket, where he does most of his damage.
“We’ve got to be able to stop (Sandoval),” Kelley said. “The problem is how do you do that. No one else has figured it out yet.”
One way to slow Sandoval down is to keep the ball out of his hands, which will take a big effort from senior running backs Manuel Robles and Derrick Phillips and a revamped Wildcat offensive line.
“We can’t afford to spot them a touchdown or two,” Kelley said, “and we can’t turn the ball over.”
The Trojans have dominated the regular-season series with Clovis. They’ve won five straight games, including a come-from-behind 21-13 win in 2006.
“They just don’t make any mistakes,” Clovis senior cornerback Jaden Isler said. “That’s why they’re 27-0 the last two years.”
Isler said keeping the Trojans from converting on third down is critical.
“We struggled with that last year,” Isler said. “We just never seemed to get a third down stopped when we needed.”