ALBUQUERQUE — The Sandia Matadors may want to think again about inviting the Clovis Wildcats to dance in their house in the future.
Behind three rushing touchdowns from senior Kamal Cass and a pair of long touchdown passes from Dakota Yandell to Traivon Sopila, Clovis out-dueled the No. 4 Matadors to ruin Sandia’s homecoming game, winning 42-24 at Wilson Stadium in Albuquerque Friday night.
Leading just 28-24 after a Sandia touchdown in the third quarter, Yandell connected with Sopila for a 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown with 4:19 left in the quarter to give the Wildcats a 35-24 lead.
The Cats defense then came up big on the next Matador possession, stopping Camrron Bean a yard short of a first down to force a turnover on downs.
After a Clovis punt in the fourth quarter, Sandia drove down to the Wildcat 6, but the Clovis defense again stiffened, tackling Bean for a 3-yard loss on third down, then forcing him to throw an incomplete pass on fourth down.
“Our defense really came up big (tonight),” Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said following the win. “I thought that was the best effort from our defense this year.”
Four plays later, Yandell and Sopila again connected on a third-down pass, with Sopila catching the ball 20 yards downfield then juking a couple of defenders before streaking into the end zone for the 75-yard score to seal the victory.
“They were big plays,” said Roanhaus. “The 3rd and 14 one was humongous, then we come back down and hold them. He made the big play that got us over the hump and won us the ballgame.”
The Cats offense scored 28 points in the second and third quarter while Clovis’ defense bent but didn’t break against the vaunted Sandia offense.
“I’ve got to commend the kids tonight,” Roanhaus said. “They came up here and did a tremendous job, played a good team and really outplayed them in the second half.”
Both teams came out and scored on their first possessions of the game — Sandia finishing a 12-play, 80 yard drive with a 1-yard run by junior Malik Gordon to give the Matadors a 7-0 lead.
Clovis (4-4) immediately responded with a nine-play, 66-yard drive, capped by a 3-yard run by Cass. The Cats got a scare when Kass appeared to fumble the ball on the first play from scrimmage, but the ball went out of bounds. Senior Peyton Lott escaped for a pair of 15 yard runs in the drive.
Clovis caught a break on the next Sandia possession when Sandia’s Jordan Jones coughed up the ball after a 12-yard completion, stopping the Matadors drive. But the Cats were unable to capitalize and punted five plays later.
Sandia (5-2) finally broke through what was developing into a defensive struggle with an eight-play, 48-yard drive to take a 14-7 lead with just over three minutes left in the half.
But Clovis caught lighting in a bottle, driving 80 yards on 4 plays with Cass scoring on a 9-yard run then to tie the game at 14.
Two plays later, senior Peyton Lott stepped in front of a Sandia receiver and returned the ball on a twisting run for a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown. The Matadors drove down for a field goal that left the Wildcats with a 21-17 halftime lead.
“That was the big break of the first half,” Roanhaus said. “Peyton runs it back for a touchdown. You know, our kids have struggled a little bit and they’re getting better and better every week,” Roanhaus said. “That was a big win for us, especially for us to score that many points on that football team.”
Cass finished with on 123 yards on 23 carries with touchdowns runs of 3, 9 and 53 yards. Yandell completed just 2-of-3 passes, but both were for touchdowns. Sopila caught both passes for 133 yards.