Cibola senior quarterback Jonathan Mader stiff arms Clovis senior defensive end Diondre Hunter during a fourth-quarter run. Hunter returned a Mader pass 60 yards for the Wildcats’ first touchdown in a 13-12 win on Friday.
It was the kind of game that gives the winning coach gray hairs and the losing coach ulcers.
It was the kind of gut-check win that can define a team’s season.
It was the kind of drive that will be talked about for years.
It was the kind of determination that creates heroes.
Manuel Robles’ second-effort touchdown on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line with 10 seconds left not only gave the Wildcats a much-needed 13-12 win Friday over previously unbeaten Cibola but much more.
“I think it will really get our season going,” said Robles, who absorbed two hits — including a direct blow from Cibola defensive back Mycah Huitron at the 1 — before diving across the pylon in the front corner of the end zone. “Hopefully, this will show that if we can beat Cibola, we can beat anybody.”
Heading into the wind, Clovis (4-3) drove 71 yards in the final three minutes to win it. Scott McMath got the Wildcats inside the Cibola 10 with a 7-yard run with a minute to play. Three short running plays moved the ball just inside the 1, setting up a fourth-down play with the clock running and Clovis out of timeouts.
Eric Roanhaus considered the game-winning drive one of the best last-minute drives he’s seen in his 30 seasons as Clovis coach, according to Wildcats defensive coordinator Darren Kelley.
“The cool thing was seeing Manuel so determined to score,” Kelley said. “This is something (the players) will always talk about.
Junior free safety Stefan Mills said the heart-palpitating win accomplished two things: “It kind of puts the Goddard loss in the back of our minds and it also helps us out so much in playoff seedings.”
Goddard upset Clovis 14-9 last week.
Turning point: Diondre Hunter’s 60-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the second quarter gave the Wildcats a 7-6 lead and fired up a huge homecoming crowd. Cibola was dominating the game until Hunter’s set in front of a Jonathan Mader pass in the left flat and motored down the sideline.
Homecoming king: Hunter’s interception for a touchdown was his second in a homecoming game. He scored on a 68-yard interception return as a sophomore his first varsity start, a 41-7 win over Highland. Hunter missed his junior season with a knee injury.
Grounded: Mader came into the game as one of the top passers in Class 5A — he threw five TD passes in last week’s 41-7 Cibola win. However, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior was a modest 3-for-9 for 45 yards passing against the Wildcats.
Part of that was by design, Cibola coach Judge Chavez said.
“Clovis did some things to take away the things we like to do (passing). Plus, we were moving the ball on the ground.
“I think he got a little rattled by the interception.”
Mader hurt the Wildcats on the quarterback option, especially in the Cougars’ 79-yard drive in the fourth quarter that gave Cibola a 12-7 lead. Mader accounted for all but 19 yards on the drive, passing for 15 yards and rushing three times for 47 yards.
However, he was stopped on a two-point run try.
“That was big because it gave us hope,” Roanhaus told the Albuquerque Journal. “That Mader kid is so big, it’s like tackling a telephone pole.”
Mader finished with 123 yards on the ground.
By the numbers: The Wildcats fumbled twice against Cibola — losing both, bringing their season total to 13.
Best offensive series: See above, Re: Robles.
Worst offensive series: After the teams exchanged fumbles near midfield, the Wildcats turned the ball over again on a fumble at the Cibola 37 early in the second quarter.
Best defensive series: See above, Re: Hunter.
Worst defensive series: The Cougars took the opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in seven running plays for a score. Mader went the final 22 yards on a keep.
Quotable: “We beat a heck of a football team,” Kelley said. “We’re not going to face another team that is as big and physical as they were.”
Up next: Defending Class 4A champ Artesia. The Bulldogs (4-1) have two weeks to prepare for the game, which will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU. Artesia was off this week after suffering its first loss of the season a 46-45 setback to Las Cruces High two weeks ago. The Bulldogs own wins over Hobbs, Carlsbad and Rio Rancho.