Wildcats look vulnerable against defending state champs

Las Cruces cornerback Gabe Oliver breaks up a pass intended for Clovis senior wide receiver Ben Teconchuk during Friday’s scrimmage in Artesia. Photo by Rick White

By Rick White

ARTESIA — Both teams scored three times, including one each by the second units.
But by no means was Friday’s scrimmage between defending state champion Las Cruces High and Clovis a toss-up.
Clovis scored on an interception return, a fumble return and a fourth-down quarterback sneak on the final play of the scrimmage. Las Cruces scored on three pass plays, including a pair of more than 50 yards.
In between the pass-happy Bulldawgs dominated the two-hour-plus tussle, poking holes in a rebuilt Clovis defense with alarming regularity while suffocating the Wildcats on offense most of the way.
Defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said the scrimmage reinforced what the coaching staff suspected — the Wildcats have a lot of learning and growing to do before the start of district play.
“The biggest thing we’ve got to change is our intensity,” Kelley said. “We can’t practice half speed then think we can turn it on Friday night.”
Kelley said he realizes part of the problem is the Wildcats are inexperienced and still trying to grasp what’s expected at the varsity level.
“We did some good things on defense,” said Kelley, in his first season as defensive coordinator. “We got lined up right most of the time and we played hard.
“Part of the problem is we’re so young that we’re thinking instead of reacting … But that’s no excuse. We’ve had two weeks of practice. We’ve got to get to the point were we can execute without thinking about it.”
One bright spot on offense for the Wildcats was the pass-catch combination of seniors Ryan Denton and Ben Teconchuck, who hooked up seven times for 64 yards.
“Denton threw the ball well at times,” Kelley said. “But he’s got to learn to hang in there and make better decisions.”
The rangy 6-foot-4 senior also hooked up with wide-body tight end Mario Caswell several times late in the scrimmage.
But the Clovis running game was almost non-existent until the final drive as the Wildcats’ inexperienced line (one returning starter) had trouble sustaining blocks against the Bulldawgs’ aggressive front five.
Denton scrambled 32 yards and Mark Replogle added a 13-yard pickup in the Wildcats’ TD drive.
Junior Chris Phillips ripped off a 57-yard run against the Bulldawgs second unit, but the Wildcats bogged down inside the 5-yard line and failed to score.
“We’ve still got plenty of room to grow,” Las Cruces head coach Jim Miller said of a defense that returns seven starters, including all-state safety Tyson Ditmore. “We really did a good job of receivers and we even had a couple of coverage sacks.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldawgs appeared in midseason form despite graduating all-state quarterback Matt Montoya, who starred in Las Cruces’ 42-17 win over the Wildcats in last year’s state semifinals.
Junior Brandon Lucero displayed similar mobility and decision making, but not nearly the arm while operating out of the shotgun most of the time.
“I was really pleased except for the turnovers,” Miller said. “We really moved the ball well between the 20s but we’ve got to eliminate the turnovers.”
The Bulldawgs threw four interceptions — two in the end zone — and also lost a fumble.
Senior cornerback Mark Young picked off two passes for Clovis, including one he returned 33 yards for a score and backup nose guard Charles Purdy scooped up a fumble at the Las Cruces 35 and rumbled in for the Wildcats’ first score.
“We’ve got to get a lot better,” said senior linebacker Jeff Epps, one of 10 new starters on defense. “We have to learn from this and get better.”
Clovis opens its season on the road Friday against 2002 state runner-up Las Cruces Mayfield.