Clovis junior Brian Mead rushed for 265 yards and two touchdowns. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer
ARTESIA — In a back-and-forth game that featured more than 1,000 yards of offense, a hustling play on special teams in the game’s final minutes proved to be the difference.
Clovis never trailed in the game, but needed Matt Ulibarri’s fumble recovery with a little under two minutes left to escape with a 42-35 win over Artesia in a battle of state-ranked teams.
The teams, which have combined to win 37 state football titles since 1953, hadn’t played since 1989.
Ranked second in Class 5A, Clovis (7-1), rode a potent running attack led by junior Brian Mead to its seventh-straight win in a rare meeting between two of the state’s most storied football programs.
Mead rushed for 265 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries while going over the 1,100-yard mark for the season.
“All credit to the line,” Mead said. “The holes were right there right when they were supposed to be.”
After he got through the holes, Mead still refused to take credit for his gaudy numbers.
“It’s the receivers then,” Mead said. “They do a good job blocking downfield.”
The state’s top-ranked 4A team countered Clovis’ ground game with a big-play passing attack led by Denny Burnett, who carved up the Wildcats’ secondary for 486 yards and four touchdowns. Kris Vierra caught six passes for 183 yards and three touchdowns for Artesia (6-2).
“We told our players on the sidelines, ‘It’s never gonna be over. These guys can score way too fast,’” Kelley said.
Up by seven points, the Wildcats were forced to punt with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Vierra returned the 55 yards before junior Cade Wheeler stripped the ball and Ulibarri fell on the it. The Wildcats picked up two first downs to run out the clock.
“When we got the ball we needed to get a first down so the game could be over,” Kelley said.
Senior quarterback Devin Sweet scored on three short runs for the Wildcats and added a 70-yard TD pass to Rishard Matthews.
“You’ve got a big offensive line and a 6-4 quarterback that weighs 205 to push it in there,” Kelley said. “He’s big enough to fall for a yard or two every time. That’s tough to stop.”
All three of Sweet’s scores were from a yard out.
“I really enjoy it,” Sweet said. “It’s usually the only time I get to score. Our line comes off the ball great. They are so big and explosive. It definitely worked tonight.”
The Wildcats had two big defensive stands in the first half, stopping Artesia from scoring twice when they had the ball inside the Clovis 20.
“As far as us and looking at what we needed to do,” Artesia coach Cooper Henderson said, “we know we can’t get inside that red zone and not come up with some points.”
The teams totaled 1,015 yards on offense.
Matthews caught six passes for 165 yards and a score for the Wildcats.
“It was a great high school football game,” Henderson said. “Anyone who came would have to be excited about both football teams.”
Clovis 42, Artesia 35
Clovis 7 14 21 0 — 42
Artesia 0 21 7 7 — 35
C — Devin Sweet 1-yard run (Kiko Velez kick), :00
A — Scott Poe 65 yard pass from Denny Burnett (Matt Moreno kick), 11:49
C — Brian Mead 33-yard run (Velez kick), 8:32
A — Kris Vierra 53-yard pass from Burnett (Moreno kick), 7:40
C — Mead 58-yard run (Velez kick), 6:49
A — Vierra 14 yard pass from Burnett (Moreno kick), 4:19
C — Sweet 1-yard run (Velez kick), 10:49
C — Rishard Matthews 70-yard pass from Sweet (Velez kick), 8:32
A — Vierra 70-yard pass from Burnett (Moreno kick), 5:56
C — Sweet 1-yard run (Velez kick), 1:36
A — Burnett 1-yard run (Moreno kick), 3:44
First downs 16 12
Rushes-yards 43-338 16-0
Passing yards 173 496
Total yards 511 496
Att-comp-int 7-11-0 28-36-1
Punting 2-42.0 2-34.5
Fumbles-lost 2-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 4-45 6-27
Rushing — Clovis, Mead 30-265, Tanner Fickling 7-61, Sweet 6-12. Artesia, Poe 1-7, Gentry Cauhape 1-6, Landry Jones 1-minus 1, Burnett 13-minus 12.
Passing — Clovis, Sweet 7-11-0-186. Artesia, Burnett 27-35-1- 486, Jones 1-1-0-10.
Receiving — Clovis, Matthews 6-165, Mead 1-3. Artesia, Vierra 6-183, Jones 4-66, Cauhape 4-111, Paul Bratcher 4-24, Poe 3-36, Braden Sanderson 1-14.
Records — Clovis 7-1, Artesia 6-2.