By Kevin Wilson
CNJ staff writer
Late in the scheduling process, the Clovis Wildcats were opening their season with a rematch they didn’t want and the Cherry Creek, Colo., Bruins were opening theirs with nobody. They’re much happier facing each other Friday night.
The schools meet each other for the first time in a 7 p.m. battle at Leon Williams Stadium in what each coach describes as a challenging opening to the 2013 campaign.
Clovis was looking at a regular season with six road games, starting at Santa Fe Capital. But neither Capital nor Clovis seemed amped up for anything that could resemble a repeat of the Wildcats’ 55-0 victory last year, and Capital coach Bill Moon was more than happy to get Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus and Cherry Creek coach Dave Logan in touch.
“Basically, Capital got us this game,” said Roanhaus, who has a state record 316 prep wins and is entering his 36th season with the Wildcats. “They didn’t want to play us, and we didn’t want to play them.”
The Bruins, coming off a 6-5 season, were set to open the season against ThunderRidge, who had knocked Cherry Creek out of the Colorado Class 5A playoffs last year. But ThunderRidge pulled out of the contest, and suddenly a 450-mile trip south didn’t sound so bad.
“We were stuck without a game really late in the process,” said Logan, who has won six championships in 21 seasons of prep football since his NFL playing days ended. “Clovis was looking for a Week 1 opponent that wouldn’t mind coming down to them. Coach Roanhaus and I have talked before. I’m fully aware of his track record. They’ve had a first class program for a long time. Even though it’s right on the border, I know it’s West Texas football. We know they’re formidable.”
The Wildcats return Gatorade New Mexico Player of the Year Kamal Cass at running back and Dakotah Yandell behind center, and are deep in the secondary. Clovis is less experienced on the line and in the linebacker corps, but players are confident they’ll be able to contribute.
“I’m nervous, but I think I’m ready,” junior linebacker Matt Lanier said. “It’s fast (playing at the varsity level), but I got to play a few series on the varsity last year. You start to adjust after a couple of plays.”
That’s the type of confidence Logan hopes his squad has as well. Unlike Clovis, the Bruins’ losses are in the skill positions and their returning strengths are on the line. Cherry Creek graduated running back Tahj Willingham and quarterback Luke Papilion, who combined for 1,927 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns with Papilion throwing for 1,441 yards with 10 more scores.
“We’re going to be young, but I like the trajectory of the program right now,” Logan said. “We’re going to have seven or eight key seniors that will really play vital roles for us, and everyone else is an underclassman. We’ve had a good offseason. We’re more dedicated than last season.
“We try to be balanced. I think we’re similar to Clovis, in that we have to be able to get the running game going. We will throw the ball too, but the teams that win the battle on the offensive and defensive line are the teams that are going to win.”
Roanhaus said the things that stand out about the Bruins on film are the size of their line, and their athleticism, particularly on defense.
‘They’ve got 11 players that are athletic and run to the football on defense,” Roanhaus said. “I’m really impressed with their defense.”
As for the Bruins’ youth at the skill positions, Roanhaus said that will be largely negated by overall athleticism.
The Bruins are no strangers to long trips, having traveled to Los Osos, Calif., last season.
“We’ve got film of them last year; they’re very well-coached,” Logan said. “They’re certainly not going to hand us the game. We think it will be a really physical game. They’re a big-play offense for sure, and we’ve got to limit Cass on how many big plays he gets. He’s very patient when he runs counter; he’s got great visiion, as most great backs do.”
Roanhaus wants the big-play potential to come back to the special teams department, noting that much of the late-season films he sent Cherry Creek showed teams had simply stopped punting to Cass. The key is putting teams in positions where going for it on fourth or punting out of bounds would be suicide.
“We’ve got to establish that we can stop someone first,” Roanhaus said. “But when you’ve got somebody as good as Kamal returning punts, it is to your advantage to make them punt.”
Cherry Creek at Clovis
7 p.m. today
Leon Williams Stadium
On the radio: KCLV-AM 1240 AM, KCLV-FM 99.1 FM, KTQM-FM 99.9.
Coaches: Cherry Creek, Dave Logan, second season, 207-47 career. Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 36th season, 316-122-5.
Last season: The Wildcats finished 6-6 for the second consecutive year, and were ousted by eventual champion Las Cruces in the Class 5A quarterfinals. The Bruins finished 6-5 last season and earned the 17th seed in Colorado’s 32-team Class 5A bracket. They were knocked out in the second round by top-seeded ThunderRidge.
Last meeting: none.
Bruins players to watch: QB Nate Sweeney, so.; 6-1, 155; TE Mikey McCauley, Sr., 6-3, 195; CB Aeneas Roberson, Jr., 5-8, 165.
Notes: Logan played nine seasons as a wide receiver in the NFL — eight with Cleveland and his final season with Denver in 1984 — and is the play-by-play voice for the Broncos on 850 AM in Denver. He is the only prep coach in Colorado history to win titles at three different schools.
— Compiled by Kevin Wilson