By Kevin Wilson
In a game with 105 points, 802 yards of offense, and 51 first downs, it’s hard to believe that less than 90 seconds swung the District 4-5A championship.
But that’s the ride the Clovis Wildcats went on, ending a rollercoaster regular season full of lows and highs with a 66-39 win to cap the whole thing off for Clovis’ third-straight district title and 10th in the 13th season since the New Mexico Activities Association created Class 5A.
The Wildcats (5-5, 1-1) went heavy on the ground, even after losing star back Kamal Cass to a knee injury late in the second quarter. In all, six Wildcats combined for 58 carries and 415 of the squad’s 453 total yards of offense.
“We were a tailback-by-committee in the second half,” Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said, “and they all contributed.”
Cass ran 20 times for 123 yards and two scores before going out with the injury, which Roanhaus said was serious enough to sit him but minor enough that he should be ready for next week’s playoff game. In his place, senior Shaprei Bryant carried 15 times for 117 yards and four touchdowns.
Thrust into action with injuries to Bryant and others, junior Juan San Juan got in the action with 10 carries for 90 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown for the exclamation point with 2:18 to go.
The advice given to San Juan? “Stay in bounds, run down the clock,” he said, a task he completed on the final drive where he had all four carries.
But the rushing numbers seemed academic after the minute-and-a-half that swung the district title to Clovis.
• With 3:59 left in the second quarter, Carlsbad quarterback Rodney Holcomb found Travis Kessler for a 13-yard score. But the conversion kick went wide left to preserve a 17-16 Clovis lead.
• Senior Peyton Lott went from sideline to sideline on the ensuing kickoff, going to the right pylon to finish off a 72-yard return score. Kicker Adam Wagener’s extra point was true, part of a perfect night with nine extra point kicks and a 20-yard field goal in the first quarter.
• After a three-and-out by Carlsbad, a high snap on the punt sailed over Holcomb’s fingers, and the ball ended up at the 5 before Holcomb recovered it.
“Those were big plays,” Carlsbad coach Ron Arrington said of the special teams errors. “But we’ve got to respond.”
• Bryant went untouched into the end zone on the next play, and Wagener’s kick made it 31-16 with 2:33 left.
The Wildcats scored to open the third quarter on a 13-yard run by Bryant, and it was smooth sailing to the district title from there.
The win created a three-team tie in the district, and the lopsided victory gave Clovis the title on district point differential. With Clovis at plus-11, Carlsbad (6-4, 1-1) at zero and Hobbs (7-3, 1-1) at minus-11, the district standings are an inverse of the regular season records, giving the seeding committee a lot to think about before the 12-team field is announced Saturday night.
First-round byes, given to the top four seeds, are likely to go to 10-0 Valley, District 3-5A champion; Mayfield (9-1), 1-5A champ; Cleveland (9-1) and 3-5A runnerup Las Cruces (9-1). By rule, Clovis is guaranteed a home game with its district championship, regardless of seed, and should be seeded ahead of Carlsbad and Hobbs. Roanhaus figures Clovis will be between the seventh and ninth seed.
At 8-2, Sandia is likely to be seeded ahead of Clovis despite the Wildcats’ 42-24 win over the Matadors at Wilson Stadium three weeks ago.
Unless Hobbs and Atrisco Heritage (both 7-3) get downgraded for weak schedules, the bottom four seeds will likely be between Cibola, Rio Rancho and Carlsbad (all 6-4), Volcano Vista and Manzano (both 5-5) and Eldorado — which finished 4-6 but defeated Manzano 34-14 on Friday night.
Carlsbad finished as a 5-5 district runnerup last year and did not make a bracket that was filled with Albuquerque schools. This year, as a 6-4 squad in a more balanced District 4-5A than recent history has seen, Arrington is cautiously optimistic.
“We still have a chance, we definitely have a chance,” Arrington said. “We’re still second in the district; we should go. There are a lot of teams on the bubble, but I don’t know how many of them are district runnerups.”