Junior linebacker Lane Ward, left, and senior cornerback Derrick Phillips get instructions from Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley late in last week’s 13-12 win over Cibola.
Da da dunt. Da da dunt.
The trademark ESPN jingle was likely reverberating in the heads of plenty of Clovis Wildcats as they tried to sleep Thursday night in anticipation of playing on national television today.
Senior tight end Layne Strebeck said he has trouble sleeping the night before games, never mind playing on national television.
“Oh, man, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to sleep,” said Strebeck, who favors a midnight snack of cookies and milk when he as trouble dozing off.
The Wildcats (4-3) play Artesia (5-1) tonight on ESPNU as part of ESPN’s Old Spice High School Showcase, which features some of the top teams and top recruits in the country.
Artesia features Oklahoma signee Landry Jones, who is the fourth-rated high school quarterback in the ESPN 150 recruiting ratings.
Strebeck said the Wildcats will be battling the butterflies before the game.
“We’ve got to go out and play well and not let the TV part get to us,” said Strebeck, who is tied for second on the team with seven catches and also plays defensive end. “We’ve got to play loose and smart.”
Artesia and Clovis combined to win 38 state titles.
Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said there’s no dodging the magnitude of the game, calling it a great honor for the program.
“It’s not something you can hide from the kids,” Kelley said. “We talked about playing hard and having a good show. You only get one chance to play on ESPN.”
Artesia coach Cooper Henderson took a much more low-key approach to the national exposure. He said he didn’t talk to his team this week about playing on national television.
“I’m just hoping for a great game that represents New Mexico well,” said Henderson, who has won 10 state titles in 18 seasons at Artesia. “Other than that, we’re just trying to win the game.”
Jones, a 6-foot-4, 218-pound senior, has passed for more than 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. But he’s much more than just a strong-armed quarterback.
Henderson said he’s the most accurate passer he’s ever had, and he’s coached his share of all-state quarterbacks. Kelley said while Jones’ physical tools are obvious, it’s his football smarts that make him nearly impossible to stop.
“If you line up wrong or stunt wrong, he’s good enough and smart enough to take advantage of it,” Kelley said.
“Our objective is not to give up the big play. We’ve talked about it all week and all year. If we’re going to get beat, we want to make you beat us with a lot of passes.”
Junior strong safety Cerron Bailey said a Wildcat secondary that has intercepted 13 passes this season is looking forward to the challenge of facing one of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
“It’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Bailey said. “When the receiver makes his break, the ball is right there. We have to make sure we tackle well in the open field and don’t give up the big play.”
Ultimately, the Wildcats’ best defense will be their offense, which means Manuel Robles will be busy pounding away at a smallish Bulldog defense. Robles is averaging 123 yards a game on the ground and has scored 10 touchdowns.
“We’ve got to control the line of scrimmage and put a little pressure on (Jones),” Kelley said. “We’ve got to be able to move the ball, keep the clock running, and not turn the ball over.”
Clovis at Artesia
8 p.m. today
* Records: Clovis 4-3, Artesia 5-1
* Coaches: Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 30th year. Artesia, Cooper Henderson, 19th
* Last week: Clovis beat Cibola 13-12. Artesia did not play.
* Last meeting: Artesia beat Clovis 34-26, 2006
* Artesia players to watch: Landry Jones, Sr., QB, 6-4, 218; Coly Hockett, Sr., WR, 5-8, 136; Dallas Gollema, Jr., LB, 6-1, 187.
* Overview: With Jones at the controls of Artesia’s spread offense, the Bulldogs are going to score points. The key for Clovis is to control the clock with its running game and force the Bulldogs to work for their points.
* Early exit: Jones, who verbally committed to Oklahoma in the summer, is scheduled to graduate in December and will start his freshman semester at OU a month later.
* Go figure: The schools have combined to win 38 state titles. Clovis has won 10 titles under Roanhaus and Artesia 10 under Henderson.
* Quotable: “I glad the game is in Artesia. All we have to do is get off the bus and play. (Artesia) has to deal with the distraction of the all the trucks coming to town and setting up all the cameras.” — Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley
* On TV: ESPNU
* On the radio: KCLV 1240 AM and 99.1 FM, KTQM 99.9 FM, KKYC 102.3 FM.