By Kevin Wilson
When the sun rises Saturday in Hobbs, “The Rebel” will be there for the first time since Bill Clinton was president and gasoline was $1.70 a gallon.
The traveling trophy with the cannon on top is out of Clovis for the first time since 2000, as a 30-28 Hobbs win left the Wildcats without the trophy — and possibly without a playoff berth.
David Romero completed 19 of 26 passes for 252 yards and two scores, and the Eagles (7-2, 1-0) played their first turnover-free game in three seasons to earn what is easily its biggest win under second-year coach Charles Gleghorn. The Eagles can wrap up their first district title since 1974 with a win next week at Carlsbad.
“We control our own destiny now,” Gleghorn said. “Winning a district championship would be big for us in the playoffs.”
The playoffs are now a concern spot for Clovis (4-5, 0-1), which picked up all but seven of its 447 yards on the ground, but missed small opportunities in the first half that loomed large.
“When it comes down to the nitty-gritty,” Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said. “They tackled better and they blocked better than we did.”
The Wildcats, who are idle next week, could still win the District 4-5A title, but will need a Carlsbad win over Hobbs and then a win Nov. 8 against the Cavemen to set up a possible district title via tiebreaker.
Behind senior running back Kamal Cass, who rushed for 163 of his 284 yards in the fourth quarter — including scoring runs of 10 and 68 yards — the Wildcats repeatedly rallied, only to be held off by the Eagles with either a big score or a defensive stop.
Clovis missed out on 10 points in the first half, with Cass stuffed at the Eagle 1-yard line on a fourth-down rush in the first quarter and a 32-yard field goal attempt wide right as the first-half clock expired. In the fourth quarter, the Eagles twice made it a two-possession game and grabbed a fumbled exchange with two minutes to play.
The Eagles made perhaps the biggest play with 7:15 to play, with a fourth down from the 30. Romero avoided pressure from the rear, shuffled to his right and found Colin Zembas, who broke away from defender Shaprei Bryant just enough to haul in the pass in the back right corner of the end zone.
“We do that scrambling drill all the time in practice,” Gleghorn said, “so the guys know what to do in that situation. But you can’t simulate it for the quarterback.”
Romero’s scrambling ability, plus his 56 yards on 10 carries, was a big difference in the victory.
“I don’t think we had a sack on their quarterback,” Roanhaus said. “They played harder than we did and they played smarter, and that’s a fact.”
One week after the Wildcats had their biggest win of the season with a 42-24 upset of Sandia at F.M. Wilson Stadium, they had their biggest loss as the fireworks exploded at Watson Stadium and Eagles seniors celebrated a team the school hadn’t beaten since the year before they started kindergarten.
“We were pretty confident after Sandia,” Roanhaus said. “I told the kids all week you have to get better. You get better or you get worse, you don’t stay the same. We got a lot worse tonight.”