Clovis senior running back Phillip Williams had a career rushing night against Rio Rancho, finishing with 275 yards and two touchdowns in Friday’s 28-21 Wildcat win at Leon Williams Stadium. (Staff photo by Rick White)
By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
He didn’t like the idea of losing the battle of star running backs named Williams.
Not at home. Not with Clovis desperately in need of a win.
Held out of the first offensive series as punishment for being late to practice, Phillip Williams more than made up for his mistake with a career-best rushing effort, including a 79-yard run with a little more than a minute remaining, as the Wildcats held off Rio Rancho 28-21 Friday in a weather-delayed game at Leon Williams Stadium.
Relying more on quickness and vision than pure speed, the 5-9, 165-pound Clovis senior wiggled and wormed his way to 275 yards and two touchdowns as Clovis (2-3) ended a three-game home losing streak.
In the process, Phillip Williams stole the spotlight from Rio Rancho’s Chris Williams, who came in the more heralded of the two because of his blazing speed.
A state sprint champion, Chris Williams did plenty of his own damage with 189 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns. But the Rams (2-2) turned the ball over three times in the second half, including a pair of back-breaking interceptions in the final 1 1/2 minutes.
The Rio Rancho senior standout said watching his Clovis counterpart torture his teammates was interesting.
“It’s kind of fun watching somebody else do what you’re used to doing to teams,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll see anybody as good as he is this season.”
Phillip Williams was also complimentary toward his counterpart, but couldn’t help boasting a little.
“He’s a good player and we knew we had to stop him,” said Phillip Williams, who more than doubled his season rushing output in Friday’s game. “He’s so fast, but I knew if we got one good hit on him we could slow him down a little and I think we did that.”
Despite Phillip Williams’ heroics, the game wasn’t decided until Matt Ulibarri’s leaping end zone interception with three seconds left in the game after Rio Rancho (2-2) took advantage of a special team’s mistake, a fasemask penalty, and a 41-yard flea-flicker pass to reach the Clovis 5.
The pass was intended for 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver Wade Morrison.
“I thought the he was going to throw to him the whole time,” Ulibarri said. “I was just trying to go up and get the ball.”
The interception set off a wild celebration on the sideline.
“It’s a big deal for our guys just to win,” Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said. “It’s nice to win and still know there are things you can improve on.
“I think this win will help us down the road.”
In addition to a one-hour delay at halftime because of lightning, the game featured a pair of productive, run-based offenses that racked up nearly 800 yards and 30 first downs.
Rio Rancho coach Phil Lopez felt the prolonged halftime break had an adverse effect on his team. Rio Rancho led 14-7 at halftime and would have been awarded the win had the game been called.
“We came out flatter than a pancake, then we got behind the eight ball when they scored two quick touchdowns,” said Lopez, who played defensive back on Clovis’ 1979 state semifinalist team. “We came back, but we just didn’t finish it.”
Clovis scored twice in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the third quarter on a Williams 45-yard run and a 35-yard pass from John Props to a wide open Damian Robinson.
“It looked like it was in slow motion,” said Robinson, who was 15 yards clear of the nearest Rio Rancho defender when he made the catch in the end zone. “It was such a perfect pass, I was thinking ‘I’ve got to catch it.’”
“But the credit goes to the line. They gave John time to throw and he threw a perfect pass.”
Taking over at its own 21 with 1:29 left in the game after Elliott Hita’s interception, Clovis ran a simple draw play that Williams turned into a ESPN-esqe highlight run. Rocketing through a gaping hole on the left side, Williams picked up a downfield block from Robinson, then used a hesitation move to freeze one final defender near midfield before racing into the end zone untouched.
“After Damian’s block, I saw one last defender. So I slowed down to make him think I was tired, then took off,” Phillip Williams said.
Clovis 28, Rio Rancho 21
Rio Rancho 7 7 7 0 — 21
Clovis 0 7 14 7 — 28
RR — Chris Williams 3-yard run (Sabino Vidaurri kick), 3:00. Drive: 81 yards in 10 play. Key plays: Baer Philipbar 22-yard pass to Williams to Rio Rancho 42 on 3rd-and-9. Mike Love 29-yard run to Clovis 26. Williams 19-yard run to Clovis 7. Rio Rancho 7, Clovis 0.
Clo — Chris Finch 11-yard pass from John Props (Travis Reid kick), 5:34. Drive: 40 yards in 8 plays: Key plays: Phillip Williams 8-yard run to Rio Rancho 29 on 3rd-and-8. Props 18-yard run to Rio Rancho 11. Clovis 7, Rio Rancho 7.
RR — Philipbar 1-yard run (Vidaurri kick), 3:08. Drive: 80 yards in 7 plays. Key play: Williams 61-yard run to Clovis 2. Rio Rancho 14, Clovis 7.
Clo — Williams 45-yard run (Reid kick), 10:07. Drive: 77 yards in 4 plays. Key plays: Williams 13-yard run to Clovis 41. Tanner Fickling 14-yard run to Rio Rancho 45. Rio Rancho 14, Clovis 14.
Clo — Damian Robinson 35-yard pass from Props (Reid kick), 8:25. Drive: 32 yards in four plays. Key play: Clovis recovered fumbled kickoff at Rio Rancho 32. Clovis 21, Rio Rancho 14.
RR — Williams 3-yard run (Varaurri kick), 7:26. Drive: 33 yards in 4 plays. Key plays: Williams kickoff 52-yard return to Clovis 33. Love 20-yard run to Clovis 13. Clovis 21, Rio Rancho 21.
Clo — Williams 79-yard run (Reid kick), 1:19. Drive: 79 yards in 1 play. Key play: Elliott Hita interception and 2-yard return to Clovis 21. Clovis 28, Rio Rancho 21.
First downs 16 14
Rushes-yards 51-299 39-329
Passing yards 121 44
Total yards 420 373
Com-att-int 6-15-2 2-3-0
Punts-avg. 2-33.5 2-44
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 8-60 1-5
RUSHING — Rio Rancho, Chris Williams 31-189, Mike Love 7-71, Justin Esquibel 6-13, Josh Thetford 2-7, Baer Philipbar 4-8, Mike Hufford 1-11. Clovis, Phillip Williams 23-275, Tanner Fickling 11-39, Tim Perkins 2-4, John Props 3-11.
PASSING — Rio Rancho, Philipbar 6-15-121-2. Clovis, Props 2-3-44-0.
RECEIVING — Rio Ranco, Wade Morrison 3-67, Williams 1-22, Thetford 1-22, Love 1-10. Clovis, Chris Finch 1-11, Damian Robinson 1-33.
Missed field goals — Rio Rancho, Vidaurri 24 yards.