On paper, Clovis Christian appears to have everyone in the 6-man field out-talented.
That said, Lake Arthur is a veteran of state championship games and the Panthers expect to give CCS a run for its money when the two collide in Saturday’s 1 p.m. title clash at Lake Arthur.
“It’s going to be a good game,” said Lake Arthur coach and alum Jose Porras, taking his charges to their third final in four years. “Our team has gone through a lot of adversity. It seems like we’ve had to make adjustments week-to-week.”
The Panthers (8-3), who lost early in the season to CCS at Jim Hill Field 65-20, bring a seven-game winning streak into the fray. Last week, they got past second-seeded Roy 67-66, blanking the Longhorns in the second half after trailing at one point 66-38.
Meantime, CCS (9-0) has won all but one of its games early on the 45-point lead rule, and the Eagles will have junior running back Kevin Naceanceno (broken thumb) back after his missed last week’s 63-12 semifinal rout of Hondo.
Naceanceno, who has 23 touchdowns this season, returned to practice on Tuesday and will have a specially padded cast on his hand.
“The thumb feels good,” he said. “These couple of practices have helped me get used to it.”
While it’s the first state championship game for the Eagles, Lake Arthur won state titles in 2007 and 2009, and lost to San Jon in the 2008 semifinals.
Porras said his team, injury-plagued early, learned from its struggles.
“It kept (us) humble,” he said. “It’s nice to go 11-0, but when you have a couple of losses you know you have to overcome it.”
Senior running back Angelo Rivera scored on a 3-yard run and junior Ever Tarango kicked the 2-point conversion with under three minutes to go, giving the Panthers the lead at Roy. Then senior cornerback Domingo Pisana sealed it with a pass interception.
“They’re a whole lot healthier (than the first meeting),” Swann said. “Obviously, Angelo Rivera is pretty impressive; I think he’s got something like 2,800 yards and 52 touchdowns this season.
“We did a pretty good job on him last time, but he didn’t have all his buddies.”
The biggest advantage CCS has shown over its opponents this season is its ability to play defense. The Eagles have four shutouts and have allowed 79 points (8.8 ppg) in nine games.
“That’s what we hang our hat on,” Swann said.
At the same time, CCS has piled up 511 points (57.9 ppg), with senior Mike Urioste scoring 42 touchdowns.
“We’ve got to be prepared to play our best,” Naceanceno said. “(Swann) always stresses defense. We’ve got to shut down (Rivera) and play solid defense.”
Lake Arthur is hoping its playoff experience is the equalizer.
“They have two exceptionally fast backs,” Porras said of Urioste and Naceanceno. “We’re going to have to use the first meeting for motivation.
“Both teams have worked hard to get where they are. It’s a joy to see my kids back in the saddle, so to speak. It really says a lot for them.”