Clovis faces healthy Highland with berth in title game at stake

Clovis junior Devin Sweet tackles Mayfield quarterback Ryan Hooker for a loss during the Wildcats 15-7 Class 5A quarterfinal Saturday in Clovis. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth

By Rick White: CJN managing editor

Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley can think of two big reasons why Highland is a more dangerous team than the one the Wildcats faced earlier this season.

Ian Clark and Phillip Harrison.

A senior quarterback, Clark is the heart of a Hornets team that takes on Clovis in a Class 5A state semifinal game Saturday at Leon Williams Stadium. At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, the University of New Mexico-bound Harrison is just mammoth and mean.

Highland (9-2) has won eight of nine games since a 31-7 loss to Clovis in Week 3, a game Clark and Harrison sat out because of injuries.

“Our kids are smart enough to realize that two of their best kids didn’t play last time,” Kelley said.

And just in case, last week’s 15-7 win over Mayfield should keep the Wildcats (8-3) from being overconfident. Mayfield embarrassed Clovis 35-0 in the first game of the season.
“I don’t think at this time of the year you really worry about motivation,” Kelley said. “We’re one win away from the state championship game and if that’s not enough motivation I think we’re in trouble.”

“Plus, all they have to do is look at last week to see what can happen.”

After manhandling Mayfield last week, Clovis faces a different challenge in containing Clark and the Hornets’ Wing-T offense.

Clark threw for a pair of touchdown passes in last week’s 20-14 win over Rio Rancho, but it’s his fleet feet that has Kelley worried.

The Wildcats second-year defensive coordinator compared Clark to another former Highland standout, Bobby Newcombe, who went on to play at Nebraska.

“Running the ball is where he can hurt you,” Kelley said. “We’ve got to fill our rushing lanes because he can run around and create some things.”

Highland coach Judge Chavez said while he thinks Clark is one of the state’s top athletes, it’s his quarterback’s competitive nature that sets him apart.

“In practice he’s screaming and yelling if we don’t do things right. He just loves to play football,” Chavez said. “He would practice all day if let him.”

Clark is one of those rare players who is faster with a football in his hands, according to Chavez. And the Hornets put the ball in his hands often.

“He knows how to find the end zone,” Chavez said.
Clovis has its own difference-maker on offense in senior running back Phillip Williams, who has rushed for more than 200 yards five times in the Wildcats’ seven-game winning streak.

It is the second straight week the Hornets have faced one of the state’s top rushers. Last week, it was Rio Rancho speedster Chris Williams.

“They’re pretty similar,” Chavez said. “It’s OK if he gets 6 or 7 yards a play as long as he doesn’t go 70 or 80 yards. We want to make them have to move the chains.”

Clovis senior linebacker Nick Maes said if the Wildcats play with the emotion and intensity displayed last week they should be fine.

“Last week we had a lot to prove to our fans,” said Maes, referring to a pair of shutout losses at home this season. “A lot of people thought we were going to lose.”

Maes played an integral part in limiting Mayfield to 118 yards last week, including six in the second half.

“We’ve got to keep playing as hard as we can,” the Wildcats second-leading tackler said.

In the playoffs for the first time in three years, Chavez said the Hornets are a much different team than the one that Clovis overwhelmed early in the season for its first win.

“We’re as healthy as we’ve been all season,” Chavez said. “We had to throw some young kids in there early and now they have a whole season under their belts.

“We’re a lot more experienced and playing with confidence.”