By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
Addressing the team in the traditional after-game huddle, Clovis senior linebacker Jared Hill made a mighty proclamation after beating rival Clovis West 20-12 and wrapping up a share of the Tri-River Athletic Conference championship.
With teammates still huffing and puffing, steam rising from recently discarded helmets, sweat dripping, and smoke from fireworks hovering overhead, Hill declared: “It’s a great day to be a Cougar!”
It was a great day to be a Cougar indeed – from the defense (three turnovers created) to the running game (Josh Hokit’s amazing wrestling-move touchdown run) to timely passing (Sean Kuenzinger to Tyson Fraser for a 19-yard touchdown on fourth down) every face of their game was on display in downing the Golden Eagles (5-4, 2-3) in the final game of the season – a perfect ending for the Cougars on all-Clovis week.
“It’s a big deal to win TRAC and I’m so happy for them,” said head coach Rich Hammond after fielding a congratulatory Facetime call from former Clovis standout Adam Prentice from Colorado State. “You want to see the kids have success and to see the joy and the payoff at the end – that’s the special part.”
The Cougars received the No. 1 seed in the Central Section D-1 playoffs and will host the winner of the Bakersfield High versus Edison game on Friday, Nov. 20 at Lamonica Stadium.
And this win wasn’t easy after Clovis West smelled upset and started off the game with a bang with sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez’s spectacular 32-yard touchdown run and an equally impressive 10-yard diving touchdown catch by Uriah Alers put Clovis in an early 12-0 hole after one quarter.
But this Clovis team isn’t one to panic, and they certainly won’t lie down either. Not the team who forged ahead after the wild and wacky loss to Central, the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season.
“The main thing that characterized this team all year is that they’ve battled,” Hammond said. “No matter what, we’ve never folded in any situation.”
Case in point: kicker Jacob Hinrichs, who missed two field goals in the Central game drilled two, the second one from 27 yards out which gave Clovis a 13-12 lead with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
The two three-pointers from Hinrichs were sandwiched between a “did that just happen play” from Hokit, the senior state caliber wrestler who carried a Clovis West defender from the five-yard line before both of them fell into the end zone in heap of tangled gold, blue and maroon.
And don’t forget the Cougars defense – stout after the first quarter – led by linebackers Hill, Tanner Rice, linemen A.J. Nevills, Daniel Varian and Quinn Vosmera. And they got a little help from an unexpected source – wide receiver J.J. Wills.
With 10:57 left in the fourth quarter and Clovis West driving for a potential game-tying score Wills, playing defense back, stepped in front of a Martinez pass and picked it off. “Ball hawk. A Madden-moment,” said Wills, referring to the popular video game.
And the Clovis West team had one last gasp but senior Andres Garcia recovered a Martinez fumble with 2:32 left in the game and the Range Rider Trophy was the Cougars once again.
Not lost on the field for Clovis West was senior linebacker Caleb Kelly, who disrupted the Cougars all night with 11 tackles including a forced fumble and two sacks, one which knocked Kuenzinger out of the game briefly.
But the night belonged to Clovis, the fightin’ Cougars, who can now called themselves TRAC champs.
“For us to put it all together this season as senior is a blessing,” said Wills. “Since we won TRAC we know we can do anything.”