Cats host Bulldawgs in 5A playoff opener

Clovis’ Jonathan Sweet sacks Carlsbad quarterback Nathan Clark during the second half of last week’s game at Leon Williams Stadium. The Cats host Las Cruces High at 7 p.m. today in a Class 5A first-round playoff game.(CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer

There were no playoff beards, shaved heads or T-shirts with mottos. It’s almost like the Clovis Wildcats didn’t know the playoffs start this week.

“It’s just another game,” senior cornerback Matt Ulibarri said. “Except now if you lose you go home.”

Oh yeah, there is that.

“You can’t take it all serious,” he said. “I approach it like it’s just another game. Yeah, it means more, but my focus is going to be at the same, high rate. I’m going to approach it the same.”

It’s an approach that has worked for the Wildcats — Clovis has reached the playoffs in 24 of 28 years under head coach Eric Roanhaus.

“One of the nice things about the way coach Roanhaus runs things is that we don’t change anything,” Clovis assistant Darren Kelley said. “Everything is the same. We run the same amount of sprints, our practice workouts are exactly the same. They know what they are going to do on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and we’ll keep doing that until the first week of December.”

The second-seeded Wildcats face a familiar foe in 15th-seeded Las Cruces at 7 p.m. tonight at Leon Williams Stadium.

Clovis holds a distinct advantage over the Bulldawgs in two areas — turnover margin and big-play ability.

The Wildcats (9-1) have a plus seven turnover ratio this season. Las Cruces (3-7), on the other hand, has a minus-11 turnover ratio.

“I don’t care what league you’re in — Pop Warner to the NFL — you have to be positive in turnover ratio,” Bulldawgs coach Jim Miller said.

Clovis took advantage of four first-half turnovers last week in a 42-6 win over Carlsbad that wrapped up the Wildcats fifth-straight district title.

“It would be nice if we could give our offense the ball on their 30-yard line every time,” Kelley said.

The second area is big plays. Miller said his team will have their hands full with trying to stop both junior wide receiver Rishard Matthews and junior running back Brian Mead.

“We have been working on not giving up big plays,” Miller said. “They’ve got a big-play receiver that we’ve got to cover, but we’ve got to stop that Mead kid, too.”

Despite improving during the season, Las Cruces is allowing 30 points a game.

The teams are not strangers. Besides meeting in the playoffs for the third time since 2001, they’ve scrimmaged every preseason since 1994.

One of the state’s top passing teams since the arrival of Miller, the Bulldawgs are led by quarterback K.C. Davies, who had completed 111 of 223 passes for 1,662. Senior Chris Cordova is his favorite target with 54 catches for 715 yards.

“We definitely know something about them and they know something about us,” Kelley said. “They know how we’re going to line up to different things. We’re going to change up a few things and give them a couple of different looks, but we’re not going to change a whole lot and their not going to change a whole lot.”

Ulibarri said he does not expect either team to do much different than they normally do.

“We both know what we’re going to run against each other; we know our offenses, we know our defenses,” he said. “It’s just going to be who wants it more that wins this game.”

Game Day
Las Cruces at Clovis
When: 7 p.m. today
Las Cruces 3-7, Clovis 9-1.
Coaches: Las Cruces, Jim Miller; Clovis, Eric Roanhaus.
Last meeting: 2002, Las Cruces defeated then-defending champion Clovis 40-17 in the Class 5A playoff semifinals.
Last week: Las Cruces lost to Mayfield 40-21; Clovis defeated Carlsbad 42-6.
Las Cruces players to watch: Chris Cordova, 5-8, 160, Sr., WR-DB; K.B. Davies, 6-2, 200, Sr., QB; Kyle Weaver, 5-10, 170, Sr., MLB; Spencer Diaz, 6-4, 200, Sr., DE.
Keys to the game: This game could be a battle of the big-play receivers. Cordova has more than 900 yards receiving for the Bulldawgs while Clovis’ Rishard Matthews has 684 yards and nine receiving touchdowns.
By the numbers: Junior Brian Mead needs 70 yards to reach 1,500 for the season.
Quotable: “We didn’t take care of business for the first 10 weeks. We are just happy we got in.” — Miller, on his team’s No. 15 seed.