Clovis High School senior Elliott Hita drops back on defense during practice Thursday at the high school. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth
By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
Overconfidence shouldn’t be a problem this week for the Clovis Wildcats even though they’re playing a Sandia team with two wins and more sophomore starters than seniors.
Not with a playoff spot for the taking and not after last week’s near meltdown.
“I think they learned their lesson,” Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said about last week’s 27-13 win over Hobbs that wasn’t decided until Jonathan Sweet scooped up a fumble and rumbled 65 yards for a Clovis touchdown with less than 30 seconds left in the game.
“We’re not good enough to play bad and win every week. We’ve got to work hard from now to hopefully the first week of December (state championship game).
“They started to believe they were better than they are.”
Clovis senior free safety Eliott Hita said the Wildcats practiced poorly before the Hobbs game and it showed, especially late in the game.
“We got up 20-3 and let up a little,” Hita said. “We starting making some mistakes.
“When things went bad, we got down on each other and we can’t do that. We’ve got to encourage each other and stay positive.”
The Wildcats (5-3, 2-0 district) climbed into the fifth spot in the Associated Press polls this week on the strength of their fourth straight victory.
Sandia (2-5, 0-1) is headed in the other direction with back-back losses before having a bye last week.
Inexperience is Sandia’s biggest problem.
The Matadors, who lost to Hobbs 21-17 in their district opener before having last week off, will start as many 11 sophomores this week, according to Sandia coach Kevin Barker.
“The kids have played hard, but they haven’t made some of the plays older players can make,” Barker said. “But we’re not using it as an excuse. Most of them have been starting all year.”
Stopping bowling-ballish sophomore Darris Jackson (5-9, 210) is the biggest challenge facing a Wildcat defense that hasn’t allowed more than 104 yards rushing in their last three games.
“They’re going to try and line up and run over you,” Kelley said. “We’ve done a good job lately of playing down the line and taking away the run.
“Like every other week, we can’t let them have the big play.”
Barker is impressed by the Wildcats’ defense, especially of late. He was especially high on defensive end Jason Burns and nose guard Juan Gutierrez.
He said the Matadors need to have some success throwing the ball to keep the Wildcat defense from keying on Jackson.
“He’s our guy,” Barker said. “We run out of an I formation so we’re going to give it to him 20 times a game. We definitely need to be proficient throwing the ball and make a few plays.”
Making plays has been a specialty for Clovis senior Phillip Williams lately.
After a slow start, the 5-9, 170-pound senior Williams has rushed for 878 yards in his last four games and has 1,128 on the season.
“He’s starting to hit the hole hard,” Kelley said. “He’s starting to believe in his blockers and starting to believe the hole is going to be there.”