“Keep your heads up, guys,” Clovis senior Fred Kelly said as the Wildcats prepared to congratulate the Carlsbad Cavemen.
For the Wildcats, the situation — and the playoff seeding — couldn’t seem much lower, after Carlsbad rode big plays early and dodged bullets late in a 14-13 win to claim the District 4-5A championship Friday night at Ralph Bowyer Stadium.
It is the first district championship since 2000 for the Cavemen (7-3, 2-0), who got 234 yards of offense from junior Eric Galindo and survived after Matt Heard’s game-tying conversion attempt was called wide left with 1:03 to play.
Although they aren’t guaranteed a home game with a 7-3 mark, the district championship does guarantee that the Cavemen will be back in the playoffs — and likely much higher than last year’s No. 12 seed.
“We’re not the most talented team you’re ever going to see,” Arrington said. “But they don’t know that, and that’s the difference. They know they can win, they think they can win.”
But Clovis (4-6, 1-1) gave them doubts early and late. The Wildcats took control early on, calling 10 runs and scoring on 1-yard plunge by junior Raymond Beachum.
The Cavemen attempted to seal the game in the final three minutes with Omar Jerado — a late-season addition from the Cavemen soccer team. But Clovis Juan Rivas stretched to block the 31-yard attempt and keep the Wildcats alive.
Beachum, who carried 15 times for 146 yards, kept the Wildcats alive again with an 11-yard carry on a fourth-and-4 from the Clovis 37. Three plays later, he busted a 34-yard run off tackle and was untouched for the final 25 yards.
Heard’s conversion kick went high, and the crowd sat silent waiting for the call. A few seconds later, the officials signaled, “No good” and the crowd at Ralph Bowyer exploded.
The Wildcats also had a 21-yard attempt from Heard sail wide, but Clovis assistant Darren Kelley said neither kick would have mattered had the Wildcats scored a touchdown on second-and-goal from the 1.
“It isn’t one person’s fault,” Kelley said. “Yeah, he missed the field goal, but we could have scored three plays before that without the penalty. There definitely wasn’t one person that was responsible for that.”
Galindo had his share of highlights — most notably an 80-yard catch where he took a short pass from Brandon Mendoza and weaved through the Wildcat defense early in the first quarter — but he mostly helped Carlsbad preserve possessions on a 24-carry, 134-yard rushing night.
Mendoza threw his second score just minutes later, finding Raymond Parham with a step against Rivas in the left corner of the end zone.
“First half, I just think they played harder than we did,” Kelley said. “Defensively, we had a blown coverage once, gave up a big play. We had our chances to win the game. We didn’t make plays when we had to.
“They played hard, and our kids played hard. They did a great job getting set and doing what they were told. We just came out on the short end of it.
The Class 5A playoff seeding meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Kelley said the Wildcats expect to get either the No. 11 or 12 seed in the 12-team field. The top four seeds in the state get a first-round bye and homefield advantage in the second round. The next four seeds receive homefield advantage in the opening round.