Pressure on Cats’ defense

Clovis offensive/ defensive linemen Michael Cohen is a part of a Clovis defense assigned to contain Sandia runningback/quarterback Derris Jackson today. Cohen has two sacks on the year. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Greg Price: CNJ sports writer

Versatile seniors Derris Jackson and Michael Scarlett put the big play in Sandia’s offense.

Jackson, a muscular 5-foot-10, 205-pound running back and linebacker, has rushed for 1,206 yards this season. He’s also thrown for 665 yards while splitting time at quarterback with Scarlett for the fifth-ranked Matadors (10-1).

Scarlett, a 5-10, 170-pound University of New Mexico signee, has caught 20 passes for 314 yards as a wide receiver and throw for 499 yards.

Clovis assistant coach Darren Kelley said the fourth-ranked Wildcats (7-3) will have to find a way to slow down Jackson and Scarlett in tonight’s Class 5A quarterfinal game at Leon Williams Stadium.

“We can’t let them have the big play,” said Kelley, who likened tackling Jackson to bringing down a Coca-Cola machine.

“They’re great at taking a bad play and turning it into a good one.”

The District 4-5A champion Wildcats haven’t played a game in three weeks – the combination of a first-round bye and a week delay in the start of the Class 5A playoffs to settle a dispute between a group of Las Cruces High parents and the New Mexico Activities Association.

“To us the most important thing is to get through the first quarter,” Kelley said. “We don’t want to make it look like we haven’t played for three weeks.”

Sandia, winners of 10 straight since a season-opening loss to Las Cruces High, beat No. 12 Gallup 43-3 last week in a first round contest.

Sandia coach Kevin Barker saidafter the game his team will need shore up its sloppy play at times to beat the Wildcats on their turf.

“Defensively, I don’t think we can shut down their run, but I think we need to slow it a little,” Barker told the Albuquerque Tribune. “We are also going to need to move the ball a lot on them offensively. We’re not going to get many possessions on Clovis.”

Defensive end Blake Hicks said he’s not ready for the season to end.

“I don’t want this to be my last week of practice,” Hicks said. “We’ve
been watching film and we’ll try to shut them up with our helmets.”

Hicks said the though of winning a state title weighs heavy on his mind.

“It’s been on my mind since seventh grade,” Hicks said. “I’ve played with most of these guys since my Yucca (junior high) team, and practiced with them since Play Inc.”

Clovis junior quarterback Jordan Mendoza said the extra time off has
actually helped the Cats.

“I think this time off has helped us,” Mendoza said. “We know how they’re
going to run and when to hit the holes. The key for this game is going to
be our defense.”

It will be business as usual for the Wildcats’ run-based offense led by senior Brian Mead (2,068 yards) and junior Manuel Robles (1,075 yards).

“If we can get Brian in the open field,” Kelley said, “that’s where we
want him.”

Kelley also stressed the need for the Clovis seniors to make the big plays.
“Your leaders have to step up,” he said, “and get it done.”