If anybody was expecting a third-straight blowout win for the La Cueva Bears Friday night, they didn’t seem to be on the La Cueva sidelines.
Though the defending 5A champs took a comfortable 41-21 victory over Clovis at Leon Williams Stadium, much of the contest saw the Wildcats one play away from tying the Bears (3-0).
It was a welcome turnaround for Clovis after a 35-0 loss last Saturday at Eldorado, but one Bears coach Fred Romero said was expected.
A 7 p.m. game at Leon Williams Stadium, with power running and multiple options in the backfield is more of Clovis’ style. But it’s La Cueva’s style too, and the Bears got 470 yards of rushing between Ronnie Daniels, Stan Stedberry and Andrew Kline.
“They got down to Albuquerque, it wasn’t their style of football,” Romero said. “We had to fight with them, they hung around. But I’m happy with the way we played in the second half.”
Play of the game: After Daniels broke off a 57-yarder for his first touchdown, it looked like Clovis could be in for a long night. But Jordan Hill found Corbin Best alone near midfield.
Hill aired it out, and Best brought it down at the Bears 40. He went untouched for the one-play, 80-yard drive and Clovis showed they’d hang with the defending champs most of the night.
“I thought it got us going,” said Best, who caught five passes for 109 yards and all three of Clovis’ scores. “It pumped us up, got us ready to go. We thought it would open up the run and allow our offense to execute better.”
Best also had scoring catches of 3 and 4 yards in the second and fourth quarters, respectively.
The play may be a key for La Cueva, as the rest of Class 5A will no doubt dedicate film sessions to long passes to Best and Dalton Britt (31-yarder to extend Clovis’ third touchdown drive) in an attempt to find a chink in the Bears’ armor. Clovis passed for 190 yards on the night.
Try, try again: In a key third-quarter series, the Wildcats, trailing 21-14, put up a goal line stand against Daniels.
After Daniels got it to the 2 on his first-down run, the defense held strong. Senior linebacker Kevin Armstrong was the key force on a no-gain the next play. Junior Kenny Betts led a gang of Wildcats on the third-down stuff, and Tucker Martin got his hands on Daniels on the fourth-down play before dragging him down at the 1.
However, when they took over from the 1, the Wildcats could only manage a three-and out. The Bears were back in business, and Kline scored from 4 yards out to cap a three-play drive. The Wildcats never got within single digits again.
“We’ve got to be able to do it (pick up first downs) the next time,” Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said. “What we gained, we ended up losing.”
Wounded Cats: Injuries have taken their toll on the Wildcats early. Clovis, which had already lost receiver Michael Johnson to a torn ACL before the opener, got another blow when the tip of Juan Rivas’ finger was detached on a collision. Combine that with a hamstring injury for Quran Wiggins, and junior strong safety and backup quarterback Tre Orozco was forced to play running back.
That meant both Hill (free safety) and Orozco were playing both ways, leading to concerns that La Cueva was running on a worn-out Wildcats squad at the end.
“That may have hurt us,” Kelley said, “but some of the guys who were missing tackles weren’t playing both ways.”
Next: Clovis will face a spread offense Friday at Rio Rancho Cleveland. The offense is run by former Wildcats assistant and Eastern New Mexico University quarterback Heath Ridenour.