Defense carries Wildcats

Carlos Gallo (22) and Angelo Sandoval wrap up Eldorado wide receiver Shane Davis after a short gain. Photo by Rick White.

By Rick White

ALBUQUERQUE — A season-opening disaster at Mayfield is a distant memory for a Clovis defense that entered the season with just one returning starter.
The Wildcats held Eldorado to 120 yards and six first downs in Saturday’s District 4-5A opener, and even scored the game’s first touchdown in a deceiving 31-0 win.
Clinging to a 10-0 lead and with its three-game winning streak on the line, Clovis (5-2) erupted for 21 points in the fourth quarter, triggered by a 44-yard halfback option pass from Mark Replogle to Mark Young.
“Our defense kept us in the game until the offense could get going,” Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said. “(Eldorado) kind of surprised us. I thought they’d come out and try to run right at us.”
Instead, the Eagles (1-6) took to the air behind sophomore quarterback Chris Roberts, who spread the ball to six receivers while going 13-of-21 for 124 yards against a Clovis secondary that had two new starters.
Eldorado, whose deepest penetration was the Wildcats’ 25 on its first possession of the game, was content to throw short passes until the game got out of hand
“I was a little surprised, but we were prepared for it,” said junior Elliott Hita, who provided the game’s biggest play when he returned a deflected pass 16 yards for a touchdown a minute into the second half. “We knew the offense was struggling so we just tried to pick it up a little bit.”
Clovis’ first defensive touchdown of the year was setup by senior linebacker Daryl Garcia, who hit Eldorado wide receiver Skyler Wildenstein as he was reaching for the ball on a crossing route. Hita snared the deflection one-handed and outraced several Eagles defenders to the right corner of the end zone, giving the Wildcats a 10-0 lead.
“I was just lucky to be there,” he said.
The Eagles had zero success running the ball against a unit that posted its third shutout of the season. Eldorado finished with minus-4 yards on the ground, in part because Roberts was sacked three times.
The Wildcats also put the clamps on sophomore running back Justin Martin, who was coming off a 205-yard effort in a loss to Albuquerque High.
Senior nose guard Wade Lopez had a big game for the Wildcats with a pair of big licks, and Replogle collected an interception and a fumble recovery in his first start at cornerback.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats struggled to move the ball against a fundamentally sound but undersized Eldorado defense, with more than half of their 335 yards coming in the fourth quarter.
Clovis had sporadic success running its base offense against Eldorado, and turned to an option attack featuring junior quarterback John Props as the game worn on.
Props finished with 64 yards and a TD on the ground, which helped take the sting out his worst passing performance of the season.
The normally accurate Props completed just 1 of 11 passes for nine yards.
He might have been missing his favorite receiver, Ben Teconchuk, who was suspended for the game for disciplinary reasons, according to Kelley.
“It seemed like we were just going through the motions,” Props said. “But we did do some good things at the end.”