From the classic run to the option to the playaction, the Clovis Wildcats threw out a little bit of everything offensively. But the Wildcats relied on a physical defense for most of the work, beating Sandia 31-7 in the Class 5A quarterfinals Friday night at Leon Williams Stadium.
Clovis (10-1), winners of nine straight, will face the winner of this afternoon’s Rio Rancho-Eldorado contest at Wilson Stadium.
After facing a tough run defense from the Matadors early, quarterback Josh Potocki struck big with a 43-yard pass to Stefan Mills on a playaction rollout.
“They were stopping our run early on, so we went to the pass,” said receiver Richie Chavez, who had a 24-yard reception on Clovis’ opening drive. “When they started playing the passing routes, we could go back to the run.”
Two plays after Mills’ catch, Potocki delivered an option pitch to Mills, who scored from 9 yards out to make it 7-0 midway through the first quarter. Mills finished with 130 yards on 25 carries and scored both of Clovis’ offensive touchdowns.
“If we can complete a few passes, we’re going to be effective,” Clovis assistant Darren Kelley said. “Most teams say, ‘If you’re going to beat us, you’re going to beat us with the pass. You’ve got to do that when you get a chance.’”
The defense took over after Mills’ scores, scoring on interception and fumble returns in the second half and limiting the Matadors to eight first downs.
“They obviously didn’t prepare for Hobbs with their bye week, because they beat Hobbs 58-0,” Sandia coach Kevin Barker said. “If Hobbs won, they’d have said, ‘Hey, we beat them 58-0, do the same thing.’”
The Wildcats didn’t quite do the same to the Matadors, but did more than enough to advance and avoid a repeat of Sandia’s 24-21 upset win two years ago at Leon Williams.
“I think we just came out more physical, and we all did our jobs,” senior linebacker Lane Ward said. “I just felt like we hit them harder and they kind of backed off after that.”
The Matadors ended the game with 210 yards, but only had 55 yards late in the third where Emery Sierra returned an interception 13 yards for a score and a 24-0 Wildcat lead.
“It felt good, but it just happened” in the flow of the game, said Sierra.
Sandia answered back with a 71-yard sideline bomb to Stanton Buckhanan, but it was much too late.
“We didn’t have a consistent offense pretty much all night,” Barker said. “Their defense played really well, and we just didn’t execute.”
Josh Bryan returned a fumble 67 yards for Clovis’ other defensive tally.
Clovis wasn’t impressive offensively in the second half, but Kelley said it was understandable given the near-freezing temperatures throughout the night.
Kelley said Rio Rancho has a shot to pull the upset, but the Wildcats are generally expecting a rematch with the Eagles (10-0), who rallied from a 14-0 deficit and beat Clovis 22-21 on a two-point conversion in overtime in the second week of the season.
“They’re one play from being 11-0,” Barker said of the Wildcats. “This is a better team that they had two years ago, even without (Brian) Mead and (Manuel) Robles, because they have the line and they’ve got the linebackers.”
Chavez echoed the point that it’s not two years ago.
“We didn’t want to have a season like ’06,” Chavez said. “I think we can get us a season like ’01, and get that blue trophy.”
Clovis 31, Sandia 7
Sandia 0 0 7 0 — 7
Clovis 7 7 10 7 — 31
C — Stefan Mills 9 run (Andrew North kick), 5:14; 9 plays/87 yards/4:49; Key plays, Josh Potocki 24 pass to Richie Chavez, Potocki 43 pass to Mills on playaction fake.
C — Mills 7 run (North kick), 11:48; 9 plays/54 yards/3:58; Key plays, Sandia pass interference, Mills 9 run.
C — North 25 FG, 7:04; 11 plays/57 yards/4:53; Key plays, James Howard 15 run, Kyler Brewer 11 pass to Blake Wiley.
C — Emery Sierra 13 interception return (North kick), 3:03.
S — Tanner Ireland 71 pass to Stanton Buckhanan (Jason Allen kick), 2:42; 1 play/71 yards/:21.
C — Josh Bryan 63 fumble return (North kick), 11:36.
First Downs 8 20
Rushes-Yards 31-102 49-271
Passing Yards 108 115
Total Yards 210 386
Comp/Att/Int 5-20-1 7-18-1
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 3-3
Punts-Avg. 6-40.8 2-33.0
Penalties 3-25 1-5
Rushing: Sandia, James Morehead 15-85, Tanner Ireland 13-36, Michael Brown 1-3, Drew Mathson 2-minus 22; Clovis, Stefan Mills 23-130, Scott McMath 6-74, James Howard 11-36, Josh Potocki 2-13, Kyler Brewer 2-13, Sebastian Flores 2-3, Moses Bibbs 1-1, Juan Rivas 2-1.
Passing: Sandia, Ireland 5-20-1; Clovis, Potocki 5-11-0-89, Brewer 2-7-1-26.
Receiving: Sandia, Stanton Buckhanan 2-81, Jordan Cruz 1-16, Carlos Mora 1-6, Mathson 1-5; Clovis, Stefan Mills 2-58, Richie Chavez 1-24, Blake Wiley 2-21, Bibbs 2-12.