Friday’s game could be a turning point for the Clovis Wildcats.
Either the Wildcats move back to .500 and start a home-heavy stretch to close the season, or they spend the next month trying to climb out of a 1-3 hole.
The key Friday at Rio Rancho Cleveland is whether the Wildcats believe they can achieve, Clovis assistant Darren Kelley said,
Kelley said the Wildcats figured they’d be 1-2 after hosting defending state champion La Cueva last week, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy to the tune of a 41-21 Bear victory.
“We’ve got to believe every week that we have a chance to win,” Kelley said. “We’ve also got to work hard enough during the week to give ourselves a chance to win.”
This week’s opponent has so far done both. The Cleveland Storm, in their second year as a varsity program, are 3-0. They’re ranked fifth in Class 5A after a 40-13 win over Onate.
Kelley said Cleveland’s schedule, with wins over El Paso Bel Air and El Paso Chapin, hasn’t been as tough as Clovis’. But the Storm did beat Eldorado, a team that pummeled the Wildcats 35-0 two weeks ago in Albuquerque, in a preseason scrimmage.
To avoid another road meltdown, the Wildcats will require more focus.
Kelley noted that while Clovis still has four of its final six games at home, the Wildcats would have to play many teams on the road in the postseason (i.e. La Cueva or Mayfield).
“We’ve got to travel well,” Kelley said. “If you’re going to win in the playoffs, you have to be able to win on the road.”
If they’re to win in Rio Rancho, the Wildcats will need to keep track of 6-foot-3 junior quarterback Cole Gautsche. The transfer from Aransas Pass, Texas, is a solid runner and passer, Clovis senior Tucker Martin said.
“They’re well-coached, they’re sharp,” Martin said. “We have to watch their quarterback, throwing and passing.
“It’s the first passing team we’ve come up against. It will definitely test our secondary.”
The Storm coaching staff has a familiar face for the Wildcats. Former Clovis assistant and Eastern New Mexico University quarterback Heath Ridenour joined Cleveland this season as offensive coordinator. With a trio of 40-point outings so far, his former players and coworkers have been impressed.
“Coach Ridenour’s done a great job,” Kelley said. “They’re scoring a lot of points, and they’ve gotten a lot of yardage.”
Attempts to contact Storm coach Kirk Potter were unsuccessful.
The Wildcats will go into the game shorthanded. Senior linebacker Kevin Armstrong is being held out after suffering a concussion last week, and senior running back and cornerback Juan Rivas should miss at least this week after a finger injury.
Clovis (1-2) at Cleveland (3-0)
• Radio: KCLV 1240 AM, 99.1 FM; KTQM 99.9 FM; KWKA 680 AM; KICA 98.3 FM.
• TV: KFCL, UHF channel 41, Suddenlink channel 128 (98-128) or Comcast channel 98. 6 p.m. Saturday airing.
• Coaches: Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 33rd season, 300-105-5; Cleveland, Kirk Potter, second season, 8-5.
• Last week: The Wildcats suffered their first home defeat in three seasons, 41-21 to defending state champ La Cueva. The Storm cruised to a 40-13 victory over Onate.
• History: The teams have never faced each other. The Storm is in its second season as a varsity program.
• Cleveland players to watch: Cole Gautsche, QB, 6-3, 210, Jr.; Travis Lonergan, WR, 6-6, 190, Sr.; Michael LiRosi, LB, 6-0, 210, Jr.
• Rankings: After suffering a 41-21 loss to La Cueva, the Wildcats (1-2) kept their No. 7 ranking in the New Mexico High School Association Class 5A poll. The Storm, meanwhile, leapfrogged Manzano for fifth place.
La Cueva received all 17 first-place votes.