Clovis senior linebacker Jordan Moore celebrates after the Wildcat defense recoved a fumble during the second half . (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
LAS CRUCES — In its first year after moving up from Class 4A, Onate coach Kelly McKee hoped his team could make a big splash in Class 5A.
The Knights did that, but they fell short of the ultimate prize — a trip to the state championship game — when they lost to Clovis High 28-14 in Saturday’s semifinal round at Field of Dreams.
The second-ranked Wildcats (12-1), winners of 12 in a row, now return to Las Cruces for Saturday’s 1 p.m. title match against top-ranked Mayfield (13-0), which ousted two-time defending champion La Cueva on Friday in Albuquerque.
McKee was relatively pleased with his team’s first-half performance on Saturday, in which the Knights (11-2) rushed for 250 yards and controlled the ball much of the time.
The second half didn’t go nearly as well, as Onate managed only 57 yards and three first downs.
“It seemed like we didn’t execute as well,” he said. “I’m sure some of it was us and some of it was them.
“Sometimes after you see (a team’s version (of) the option, you defend it better.”
Defensively, he said the Knights were devastated by big plays at crucial times.
“Our defense gave up multiple big plays, but they (defense) played pretty well for the most part,” he said.
IN GENERAL, THE CATS said they didn’t feel that bad about being in a 14-14 tie at halftime.
“You know at this time of year, it’s going to be a war,” CHS assistant coach Darren Kelley said. “The kids did a good job of keeping their composure.”
Several players said they tried to pump up the team at halftime. Clovis allowed two Onate first downs following the second-half kickoff, but then forced a punt and the defense gave up just one more first down after that.
Meantime, the Cats quickly took control after forcing the punt, going 80 yards in just three plays capped by junior wide receiver Rishard Matthews’ 35-yard end-around for the go-ahead score.
“I wasn’t concerned,” Matthews said of the team’s 14-7 deficit in the second quarter. “I have a lot of confidence in our defense, and they did a good job of getting us the ball back.”
THE CATS ARE LOOKING forward to Saturday’s rematch against Mayfield, which handed Clovis its only loss 7-0 on this same field in the teams’ Aug. 26 opener.
“You’re happy to play anyone if you get to the state championship game,” Kelley said. “Hopefully, some of the routine (in preparing for) this week will carry over.
“We’re going to have to be able to control the ball and make some tackles. And we have to do it for four quarters next week.”
Senior linebacker Jordan Moore suffered a shoulder injury in the first meeting and eventually sat out six weeks.
“It’s going to be a lot like this game,” he said, comparing it to the Onate tilt. “As long as we can shut them down, we’ll be OK.”
Junior running back Brian Mead said the Cats have improved quite a bit since the earlier meeting.
“I think it’ll be a lot different game than the last time,” he said. “Coming down here again isn’t going to be that big of a deal. We’ll be ready.”
SENIOR TIGHT END-DEFENSIVE end Chris Finch, one of the few Cats who plays both ways most of the game, said he was hampered by an ankle injury sustained in a quarterfinal win over Manzano. Still, he said enjoys both offense and defense.
“I love it,” the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Finch said. “Last year I was strictly a tight end. I try to take advantage of it and play hard on both sides of the ball.”