By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
A manager at an Albuquerque employment agency, former Clovis Wildcat Sam Dickey spent this week talking smack. His target was a co-worker from Mayfield. The topic was who would win Saturday’s Class 5A state-championship game.
It’s the same competitive fire that made Dickey a standout center and linebacker on the Wildcats’ 1985 team that won the last of five-straight state championships.
“I remember us being a pretty close-knit group,” said Dickey, who went on to a stellar career at New Mexico State. “We used to hang out together and do stuff together.”
However, the “Drive for Five” was anything but easy.
Led by the thunder and lightning backfield of Anthony Hall and Darren Kelley, a daredevil quarterback and a seasoned defense, the Wildcats breezed to a 6-1 start.
Kelley and Hall combined to rush for 2,344 yards in the first seven games. Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said at the time having the roadrunner-like Kelley and the bullish Hall in the backfield made play-calling easy.
“It’s almost a sacrilege to waste a down passing the ball when you have backs like Kelley and Hall,” he said.
Drooper Greenwalt, a free-spirited motocross rider and standout free safety, took over at quarterback for the Wildcats two games into the season because of an injury.
The job came with a request from Roanhaus — to give up motocross riding until the end of the season.
“He didn’t really say anything to me about (riding) before then, but once I took over at quarterback, he strongly suggested it would be safer if I gave it up,” said Greenwalt, who works for the railroad and still rides motocross.
Top-ranked and heavily favored to add another piece of championship hardware to the school’s rapidly expanding trophy case, the Wildcats’ only loss during pre-district was to state-ranked Amarillo Palo Duro in the second game of the season.
However, Clovis opened district play with back-to-back losses to Carlsbad and unbeaten Alamogordo, which took over the top spot in the state rankings.
All of a sudden, the once-indestructible Wildcats needed outside help to even make the playoffs, never mind win the school’s seventh state title in nine years.
The Wildcats received the help they needed when Alamogordo beat Roswell in the last week of the season, creating a three-way tie for the district’s second playoff spot between Clovis, Roswell and Carlsbad.
The Wildcats were awarded the playoff berth on the basis of point-differential.
“Our district was tough,” said Kelley, a longtime Clovis assistant coach in his fourth year as defensive coordinator. “Roswell was good and Alamogordo was really good.”
Dickey said there was a rumor floating around that Alamogordo was going to lose on purpose to Roswell, thereby, keeping Clovis out of the playoffs.
Larry Jones, a senior cornerback, remembers thinking the season as over after the Alamogordo loss.
“I remember feeling tired and just looking toward the end of the season,” said Jones, who owns a Clovis well-drilling company. “But once we got in, we caught our second wind.”
Given a reprieve from being the team that ended the school’s string of championships, the Wildcats beat Santa Fe and Cibola to set up a rematch with Alamogordo, which was gunning for the school’s first state title since 1950 and first undefeated season in 71 years.
After a back-and-forth first half, Clovis outscored Alamogordo 27-0 in the second half en route to a 36-12 win.
Kelley motored for 211 yards and three touchdowns and Hall added 112 yards on six carries. Greenwalt spearheaded the defensive effort with a pair of interceptions, bringing his season total to a school-record 18.
Dickey said it was a sign that Clovis lost to Alamogordo 12-7 during the regular season, then played the state-title game on Dec. 7.
“Looking back, I think it was just kind of our destiny,” he said.