Senior running back Phillip Williams draws a crowd wherever he goes. (Staff photo: Rick White)
Rick White: CNJ managing editor
Clovis junior linebacker Jonathan Sweet said the turning point on defense began a month ago in a loss to La Cueva, which seems odd since the top-ranked Bears put a 40-point hickey on the Wildcats.
Not only were the Wildcats embarrassed on the scoreboard, Sweet said, but La Cueva tried to bully Clovis and took its share of cheap shots.
“After we played La Cueva, we got so much more intense,” said Sweet, the Wildcats’ second-leading tackler. “We knew after that if we were going to make a run for a state title we’d have to get a lot more physical.”
And they have.
The Wildcats (4-3, 1-0 district) have won three straight games since the La Cueva loss and take back-to-back shutouts into tonight’s District 4-5A game against Hobbs at Leon Williams Stadium.
Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said confidence has been the biggest factor in the defensive turnaround for a team that gave up 20 or more points in four of its first five games.
“They’re starting to believe in what they’re doing,” Kelley said. “They’re starting to believe in what we’re telling them.
“They’re starting to understand that they don’t have to make the tackle to make the play. They just need to take care of their responsibilities.”
Scoring 29 points a game during the winning streak behind a punishing game led by senior running back Phillip Williams hasn’t hurt either.
“Our offense has helped the defense as much as anything,” Kelley said. “Now when (the defense) gets off the field they can talk about the things they’re seeing with coaches, drink some water and cut up and make fun of each other.”
Earlier in the season, Clovis was getting hurt by big plays, especially on third down.
“We’ve done a good job lately on third down and we’re not giving up the big play,” Kelley said. “They’re starting to take some pride in putting zeroes up on the board.”
Pride always plays a big factor when Hobbs and Clovis meet in any sport.
Coming off a 21-17 win over Sandia in their district opener, the Eagles (5-3, 1-0) have won more games this season than in their first two seasons under Phillip Roybal when they went 3-19.
Senior quarterback Ryan Herrera and junior running back Eddie Jackson are a big reason why.
Herrera is second in Class 5A with more than 1,110 yards passing while the speedy Jackson has rushed for 761 yards.
Operating out of a one-back offense this season, the Eagles are averaging 29 points a game.
“They’re going to try and spread you out and get (Jackson) the ball,” Kelley said. “If you load up to stop him they’ll throw it. Herrera does a good job.”
The Eagles play an odd defense that features four down lineman and five defensive backs.
Kelley believes Williams, who has rushed for 685 yards in the last three games, could have a big night.
“Phillip is getting excited. Last week was probably his best game of the year,” Kelley said. “He and Tanner (Fickling) ran hard last week and they’re starting to block for each other, which is so important.”
Despite outscoring Hobbs 91-6 the last two seasons, Kelley said he’s not worried about a letdown this week.
“It’s still Hobbs,” Kelley said. “Anytime you play Hobbs in anything, it’s a big game.
“The big thing is we need to play well at home. We haven’t really done that yet this season.”
Hobbs (5-3, 1-0) at Clovis (4-3, 1-0)
7:30 p.m. today at Leon Williams Stadium
At stake: The District 4-5A lead
Last week: Clovis beat Carlsbad 28-0. Hobbs beat Sandia 21-17.
Last meeting: 2003, Clovis 40-0.
Hobbs players to watch: Eddie Jackson, 5-11, 165, Jr., RB; Ryan Herrera, 6-0, 170, Sr., QB; William Waldron, 5-9, 280,. Sr., DT.
Scouting report: Hobbs has switch from a run-based Power-I to spread formation. Herrera has thrown for more than 1,100 yards. Kyle Holmes (6-0, 170) is his favorite receiver. Jackson is fast and elusive. but not very physical. Look for Clovis to try and pound on him. Waldron, a converted fullback, is a load at defensive tackles and DeShon Sanders (6-2, 180) is solid at cornerback in the Eagles’ unique 4-2-5 defense. Clovis had a lot of success running Phillip Williams on the counter-trap and outside.
Noteable: Clovis kicker Travis Reid is expected to play after missing the Carlsbad game with the flu. John Props (4 for 4 on extra points) and Jordan Moore (kickoffs) filled in for Reid. Moore won a pre-game contest to handle kickoffs almost by default, according to Clovis special teams coach Darren Kelley. Moore, who recorded 10 tackles last week, will continue to rotate at linebacker with Jonathan Sweet and Nick Maes.
Sweet debut: Sweet filled in admirable against Carlsbad for starting tight end Chris Finch, who dislocated his kneecap in Thursday’s practice. A starting linebacker, Sweet will continue to see time on defense.
By the numbers: Clovis has outscored Hobbs 90-6 the last two seasons.