Clovis High strong safety Kolt Merren, left, reaches for Palo Duro quarterback Skye Gonzales after he was flushed out of the pocket during Saturday’s game at Dick Bivins Stadium in Amarillo. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer
AMARILLO — It was supposed to be a matchup of Clovis’ secondary and Palo Duro’s spread offense. Instead, it became a game of botched special teams plays.
Palo Duro rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit and stunned Clovis 32-26 in overtime Saturday at Dick Bivins Stadium.
Palo Duro earned its first win of the season when junior running back Maurice Burks went over from a yard out.
Burks scored the game-winner three plays after Clovis (2-2) lost its fourth fumble of the game after starting the overtime with the ball.
Palo Duro (1-2) blocked an extra point and a punt and recovered a muff on another punt in the second half. The Dons converted the Clovis miscues into 14 points.
“Special teams killed us all night,” Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said. “Our biggest fault was missing tackles, especially ones that should’ve been for losses.”
Senior quarterback Skye Gonzales completed 19 of 24 passes for 171 yards for Palo Duro, and also rushed for the game-tying touchdown with 23 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Burks finished with three touchdowns and 85 total yards of offense.
Senior running back Brian Mead gained 177 yards on 31 carries for the Cats. Mead also had three fumbles, including one in overtime that turned the ball over to the Dons.
Late in the third quarter, Clovis junior Bryce Hill muffed a punt that Palo Duro recovered on the Cats’ 24.
Burks scurried in from 2 yards out with 2:15 remaining in the third to cut the Clovis lead to 20-12.
“Our mistakes cost us the game,” Kelley said. “We get any one of (the punts) and we win.”
Palo Duro forced Clovis to punt into a strong wind on its next possession, with the Dons taking over at the Wildcats’ 30. Burks capped a five-play drive by scoring from a yard out, tightening the game at 20-18, but the potential tying two-point conversion pass fell incomplete.
The Wildcats struck back with an eight-play, 73-yard drive capped by a 21-yard touchdown run by junior running back Manuel Robles, who finished with 117 yards.
On the ensuing extra point try, the Dons blocked junior Robert North’s kick and Palo Duro’s Devin Swain returned it 85 yards for a defensive conversion to bring Palo Duro to within 26-20.
“I don’t know if it was divine intervention or what,” Palo Duro coach Steve Parr said of the blocked kick. “We got it and that’s it.”
Based on Texas rules the ball was still live after Palo Duro blocked the kick. Kelley said if the game was played under New Mexico rules, the play would have been ruled dead.
The special teams’ nightmare continued on Clovis’ next possession when Palo Duro senior linebacker Anthony Rios blocked North’s punt and senior defensive end Ricky Matthews returned the ball to the Wildcats’ 31. Gonzales’ quarterback sneak from the 1 tied the game at 26 with 23 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a chance to get better,” Parr said of the victory. “We’ve worked hard all this year, but haven’t got a paycheck, and today we got it.”