The good news for the Clovis Wildcats is things are about to get a little bit easier on the schedule.
The bad news is that time isn't here just yet.
The Wildcats kept up with Class 5A's second-ranked Rio Rancho Rams for the most part, but sputtered on offense late in a 42-33 setback on Friday night at Leon Williams Stadium.
"Our effort was good, our kids played hard," Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said. "We can't overcome our own youthful inexperience."
The classification steps down a notch, but the level of competition won't with 4-0 Roswell Goddard on the horizon. The Rockets have been in five of the last six 4A title games, winning two, and have beaten the Wildcats three of the previous five years.
Goddard is coming off a 54-0 victory over Hobbs, and dealt Rio Rancho its only loss of the season — a 21-17 setback where the Rams had four turnovers. Rio Rancho coach David Howes said flat-out that the Rockets are "a very good football team" that is tough enough to beat when a team is turnover-free.
Following its trip to the Wool Bowl in Roswell, Clovis has just one road game — Nov. 2 at Carlsbad (3-2). That game is shaping up to be the District 4-5A title game, as district rival Hobbs is 1-4 and giving up an average of 45.6 points per game.
The three final home games are against Artesia (Oct. 12), Sandia (Oct. 19) and Hobbs (Nov. 9).
Track number: 146. The number sounds high, but it's actually a pretty low total — the number of yards the Wildcats gave up in their first two wins over Capital (16) and Highland (130).
The Wildcats have given up more yards in each of their three losses, and have progressively given up more yards as they've gone. Manzano posted 201 yards, Cleveland 255 and Rio Rancho 440 — 269 of them of 19 completions.
"We're setting a school record," Roanhaus mused, "for getting beat deep."
Never give up: Junior Pierce Hoyer got beat deep Friday by Rio Rancho senior Nathan Jojola, with a 26-yard gain that would have put the Rams in business at the Clovis 17 with 2:16 to play in the second quarter.
It would have, had Hoyer not acted when Jojola exposed the ball. Hoyer wrestled the ball out of Jojola's hands and picked up the loose ball before it bounced out of bounds to keep the contest tied at 21.
Punting prominence: Clovis has excelled on the punt return, unquestionably, with four touchdown returns from Kamal Cass and two more returns inside the red zone in just five games — even as teams are trying to kick away from the Wildcats.
But the Clovis punt team, which didn't see action in the first two games, has done a solid job with what has been an increased workload.
The Wildcats have punted a dozen times in the last three games, with sophomore Jordan Holguin's boots traveling a total of 454 yards — good for a 37.8 yards per punt average.
That's with no touchbacks and no returns, as junior Jaheem Prioleau has efficiently covered most punts and eliminating return opportunities for Cleveland's Rommell Jordan and Rio Rancho's Ulses Astorga.