Clovis gang-tackles La Cueva’s Gus Bowie during last week’s game in Albuquerque.
For a team that has yet to win on the road this season, making a second trip to the Albuquerque area in less than a week is tough enough.
But that’s just one of the challenges the Clovis Wildcats face tonight at Rio Rancho.
The Rams’ spread offense featuring mercurial senior wide receiver Marcus Williams will force the Wildcats to adjust to a new defensive scheme.
Clovis’ top receiver Bryce Hill is serving a state-mandated one-game suspension after getting ejected from last week’s game against La Cueva.
Oh yeah, then there’s the matter of rebounding from last week’s 26-21 mauling at the hands of the Bears.
After impressive back-to-back home wins against Eldorado and Palo Duro, the Wildcats (2-2) came out flat against La Cueva.
Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said the onus is on the players to get back on track.
“They’ve got to fix it,” Kelley said. “They’ve got to be ready to be prepared to get off the bus ready to play.
“We can fire them up for a few seconds, but once the game starts it’s up to the them.”
Senior cornerback Jaden Isler said the Wildcats have plenty to prove tonight — including that the team can win on the road.
“It’s something we talk about in our team meetings without the coaches,” Isler said. “We’ve got to work hard in practice and take it to the field on Friday nights.”
The Rams (3-1) are still looking for a signature win after roughing up Class 3A champ Las Vegas Robertson 56-21 last week. They did give Artesia all it could handle in a 42-35 loss two weeks ago, a game in which the Rams lost starting quarterback Orion Murphy to a shoulder injury.
Sophomore Tyler Baker takes over at the controls of the Rams’ high-octane offense that is patterned after that of Artesia, which is where first-year Rio Rancho coach Mike Worley spent the last 12 years before taking over the reins of the state’s largest school.
Clovis will predominantly use a nickel package — five defensive backs — to defend against the first true spread passing team — but not the last — it’ll face this season.
“They like to throw the ball deep and look for the big play,” said Isler, who has five of the team’s eight interceptions. “We need to try and take away the deep throws and force them to run the ball or to dump the ball off short.”
Kelley, who called the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Williams the best athlete in the state, said the Rams throw the ball 50 percent of the time. He said the Wildcats must prove they can stop run with four down linemen instead of five, or the Rams will be difficult to stop.
The Rams had their best rushing game of the season last week, with junior T.J. Harris gaining 116 yards on eight carries and Baker adding 63 yards and three touchdowns.
Rio Rancho, which posted shutouts in its first two games, plays a stunting 3-5 defense led by a strong set of linebackers.
Clovis at Rio Rancho
7 p.m. today
Records: Clovis 2-2, Rio Rancho 3-1
Last week: Clovis lost at La Cueva 26-21, Rio Rancho beat Las Vegas Robertson 56-21.
Last meeting: 2006, Clovis, 36-33
Coaches: Clovis, Eric Roanhaus, 30th year. Rio Rancho, Mike Worley, 1st.
Rio Rancho players to watch: Marcus Williams, Sr., WR, 5-11, 160; Zack Drapeau, Jr., LB, 6-1, 215; Thomas Trujillo, Sr., RB, 5-5, 140.
Scouting report: The Rams have good overall team speed, led by Williams, who Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley calls the best athlete in state. Rio Rancho loves to blitz out of its 3-5 alignment, featuring a solid linebacker trio lead by Drapeau and Carlo Lirosi.
Game notes: Robertson jumped out to a 14-0 last week and still was within 27-21 in the third quarter. ... Artesia senior QB torched the Rams for 390 yards and three Tds in the Rams’ only loss this season. ... The Rams shutout Highland and Roswell in their first two games ... Worley is a Portales High and Eastern New Mexico University graduate. ... Rio Rancho’s athletic director is former CHS principal Andy Sweet. ... Clovis senior strong safety Diondre Hunter is expected to see his first action tonight in two years after a pair of knee surgeries.