There are plenty of things present for a football team to be distracted by during homecoming week. But the Clovis Wildcats might have their biggest distraction in what's currently missing.
As practice has progressed this week, the Clovis players have walked by what used to be a circular team sign on the locker room floor. Instead, they only see a concrete slab, and a note that says, "There used to be nothing tougher than a Clovis Wildcat," taped to the top of the slab.
"It's kind of disappointing," junior running back Kamal Cass said of the missing sign, and the two-game skid that inspired its removal. "I know we're a better team than the way we've been playing.
"We just haven't reached our full potential yet. We'll come out and play well one half, and the other half we're dummies."
It's the bad halves that have Clovis (2-2) at .500 with a two-game skid. The Wildcats will probably need two exemplary halves just to hang with Rio Rancho (3-1).
While the Wildcats have been grounded, the Rams are flying high off a 42-21 victory over top-ranked Las Cruces High — a convincing win that happened across Rio Rancho Friday night at the same time the Wildcats were losing 27-20 to Cleveland — the second of three road games in four weeks. Tonight's game against Rio Rancho is the lone home affair of the four, before the Wildcats head to Roswell next week to face Goddard.
"It's our toughest stretch of the year," Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus said. "I'd like to come out of the stretch 2-2, but it doesn't look like we're going to get that. The last two teams we've played aren't as good as Rio Rancho or Goddard. They run the spread better than Cleveland or Manzano."
Other than the Wildcats' special teams, which have four touchdown returns and two others inside the red zone, there's been a lack of execution on offense and defense.
"When we haven't been very good defensively," Roanhaus said, "we've always been good enough offensively to keep the ball away from the other team. Right now, our offense can't consistently keep the ball from the other team, and our defense can't consistently stop them."
Cass knows teams are going to start doing as Cleveland did last week, and simply give up field position by kicking and punting the ball out of bounds to avoid returns by Cass, Shaprei Bryant or Traivon Sopila. And this week, Roanhaus said, Rio Rancho isn't concerned about kick returns because it has the best kicker in the state in senior Carlos Garcia, who will simply send the kickoff past the end zone for a touchback.
That means the Wildcats' offense needs to be better.
"We need to pass a little more," Cass said, "and when me and (Bryant) get the ball, we have to take advantage of those chances."
Along with other staples of the Wildcats' locker room, the center glass sign has been used before as a source for motivation. In 2009, with Clovis in the midst of a two-game losing streak, the sign was covered up with butcher paper and masking tape as a source of motivation.
For whatever reason, that move wasn't replicated this time.
"It's gone," Roanhaus said of the sign, "and it's not going to be back until we start playing like Wildcats."
Rio Rancho (3-1)
at Clovis (2-2)
7 p.m. today
Leon Williams Stadium
On the radio: KCLV-AM 1240, KCLV-FM 99.1, KTQM-FM 99.9.
Coaches: Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 35th season, 312-118-5. Rio Rancho, David Howes, 4th season, 23-16.
Last week: The Wildcats dropped to .500 with a 27-20 defeat at Cleveland. The Rams recovered from their first loss of the season, and beat Class 5A favorite Las Cruces High 42-21.
Last meeting: 2011, Rio Rancho beat the Cats at home 27-14. The Wildcats lead the series 6-2, with the Rams taking two of the last three.
Rio Rancho players to watch: Tristen Foley, Jr., 5-9, 150, WR; K.J. Jiggets, Jr., 5-8, 155, WR; Carlos Garcia, Sr., 5-8, 160, PK.
— Compiled by Kevin Wilson