Cats adjust to loss of receiver

Clovis High junior Barret Stewart is brought down after catching a pass for a 7-yard gain during the second quarter of the Wildcats’ 34-14 victory over Eldorado on Friday night in Albuquerque. (CNJ correspondent: Niock Lyamn)

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

ALBUQUERQUE — Ever so quietly, the Clovis High football team went into its game against Eldorado on Friday night at Wilson Stadium minus standout senior receiver Rishard Matthews, who left school late in the week to move back to California to live with his father.

On top of that, the Eagles pretty much went right through the Wildcats following the opening kickoff for a 7-0 lead.

“We didn’t come out ready to play,” said Darren Kelley, CHS’ defensive coordinator. “We were back on our heels (early), and they just ran over us.”

Matthews, who moved to Clovis last year and lived with his sister, scored 20 touchdowns for the Cats’ Class 5A state runnerup team last fall, including a school-record 12 pass receptions for TDs. Recently, he made a verbal committment to Division I-A Texas-El Paso for next year.

Even without him, though, the Cats had two big-play guys left on offense in running backs Brian Mead and Manuel Robles. They combined for 351 rushing yards and all five touchdowns — four by Mead — in what turned into a dominating 34-14 win.

Clovis failed to score on just two possessions, coming at the end of each half.

“It’s nice when the offense goes out and drives the ball like that,” Kelley said.

Still, he wasn’t totally happy with his platoon.

“We played more consistently than we did last week (in a loss to Mayfield),” he said of the defense. “Our biggest thing is that we weren’t very physical, and that’s something that’s going to have to change.”

Coming in, the Cats might be excused for wondering what to expect. Still, after getting shredded by the Eagles (0-2) on the opening drive, Clovis’ defense allowed Eldorado only 136 yards the rest of the game.

“We were just making stupid mistakes, but we picked it up in the next series,” said senior cornerback Kolt Merren, who made several good plays, including a jarring hit that forced Eldorado’s A.J. Ortiz to drop a short pass in the second half. “The coaches just got us doing what we were supposed to be doing.”

After its early score, Eldorado coach David Williams noted his team wasn’t able to recover a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.

Bailed out for the moment, Clovis promptly put together a 73-yard march that ended in the first of Mead’s four touchdowns.

“We kick off, they fumble it, and we don’t get it,” Williams said. “That (play) sort of set the tempo.”

The other play that hurt, he said, was Robles’ 77-yard TD run that snapped a 7-7 tie late in the half. The junior broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage before running away from everybody.

“It looks like you’ve got him, maybe for a loss, and a couple of our guys let up thinking we had him,” Williams said. “But he keeps going.”

Mead rolled up 148 of his 203 yards after halftime.

“Brian Mead had a heck of a game,” Merren said. “Losing Rishard Matthews, we played pretty good. He’s a big part of our team.”

Mead, who rushed for 1,800 yards and scored 21 touchdowns last season, credited his relatively inexperienced offensive line for helping him enjoy one of his best games at CHS.

“The line did a good job,” Mead said. “They’re all pretty much new (starters). When they started trusting each other, they started coming together.”

The Cats admittedly were a bit tentative early without Matthews.

“Rishard was a big part of our offense,” Robles said. “We just have to spread things out more now. I think we’ll be all right.”

CHS quarterback Jordan Mendoza threw just three times in the contest, completing two of them for 16 yards.

“We have people who can catch,” Mead said. “It’s just that Rishard could take it all the way.

“Watching our defense struggle (on the first series), we knew we had to come back out and score. We were a little iffy about how our big plays were going to happen, but we just came together as a team.”

Williams said Clovis decided to attack left as the game went on, and that helped turn things.

“When their offense decided the left side was the way to go, they just pounded it and made it work,” he said.