By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
Mayfield’s Jim Bradley, still fiery after nearly 50 years coaching in high school and college, said he’s never gone into a season where he didn’t think his team could win every game.
“Well, that’s not true — I did coach at New Mexico State,” he quipped.
The senior-laden, top-ranked Trojans (13-0) are one win away from giving the 72-year-old a perfect season in what could be his final game.
Mayfield hosts Clovis (12-1) in Saturday’s Class 5A state championship.
The Trojans haven’t won the title since 1998. They lost in the state finals three years in a row, starting in 2001 when the Wildcats beat them 17-10 at Las Cruces in a battle of unbeatens.
Longtime Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus expects a stern test.
“It’s tough to be 13-0 this time of year,” he said. “You’ve got to do a lot of right things, and obviously they have.
“(But) we’ve played some tough people on the road, and that’s helped us. It’s certainly within our capability to win this game.”
The Trojans have been a picture of proficiency this season.
They used a blocked punt and a late scoring drive to break away from a halftime tie and beat two-time defending champion La Cueva 21-7 last week to advance to the championship game for the fourth time in five years.
Mayfield’s leader on offense is senior quarterback David Bustillos, who has completed 69 percent of his passes for 18 touchdowns with just one interception — that coming in last week’s game.
His favorite target is senior Chris Hernandez, who has caught 68 passes for 1,051 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 senior caught nine passes for 149 yards in Mayfield’s 7-0 win over Clovis in the Aug. 26 opener for both teams.
Bradley and Roanhaus have gone at it many times over the years, including five previous state championship games. They split two contests when Bradley coached at Roswell High in the 1980s while Roanhaus has a 2-1 edge since Bradley, a Mayfield graduate, returned to begin a second stint at his alma mater in 1994.
“He’s a good gentleman,” Roanhaus said. “He’s a grumpy old fart sometimes, and I am too. If Warner Brothers ever decided to make ‘Grumpy Old Men 3,’ we could replace Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
“Playing against his teams, you know you’re playing well-coached, well-disciplined teams. I’ve never been up against a coach Bradley team that hasn’t been prepared.”
Despite a 35-0 victory over La Cueva during the regular season, Bradley said he knew the Trojans would have their hands full last week.
“We were just pumped up for La Cueva,” he recalled of the first meeting. “Clovis had beaten (La Cueva) the previous Friday night and they had their tails between their legs.
“When we played them the second time around, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. And we know it won’t be easy in this thing. You just try to learn from the good and bad things.”
Last year, Mayfield lost at Clovis 15-7 in the first round of the playoffs after crushing the Wildcats 35-0 in the season opener.
Bradley said injuries to several two-way starters hurt the Trojans in that playoff loss, but he conceded: “Clovis was a different team than they were in the first game of the season. They did a lot of things to hurt us.”
Determined not to have another underachieving season, the Trojans didn’t wait until after Christmas to start their offseason conditioning program. They started right after the playoff loss.
“I told them they could deal with the pain of discipline or the pain of regret,” said Bradley, who declined comment on speculation he is retiring. “It was the toughest out-of-season we’ve ever gone through here.”
Bradley, who holds the state record for career coaching wins in high school football with 309, said it’s tougher to build consistent state-caliber programs in cities like Las Cruces or Albuquerque, which have multiple schools.
“Towns like Clovis and Artesia are football towns, and they should be there almost every year because they’re one-school towns,” he said. “We’re in a different environment here, with three schools, and it’s a credit to the program and the city to be able to get to this point.
“One year Onate was the champion in (Class) 4A, and Cruces beat us to win the 5A championship after we had beaten them early in the season.”
Bradley said the Trojans and Wildcats have “overachieved” in a sense.
“We’ve got 29 seniors who have bought into our program, and I think coach Roanie’s team has bought into their program,” he said. “Tiger Woods is an overachiever. I think every good team is going to be an overachiever. Success develops success, adversity develops champions, and we’ve had both.”