Clovis shuts out Clovis East in second half to win TRAC opener
Clovis rallies from 21-7 deficit behind three rushing touchdowns from sophomores Tristan Risley and Nathan Johnson.
CLOVIS – Rivalry games are certainly emotional; celebrations after big plays, electrifying athletes, heated coaches, student sections cheering like their lives depend on it.
And of course every rivalry game must have a little controversy.
Clovis and Clovis East had all that and more.
Down 21-7 at half to a tough and grind-it-out Timberwolves squad, the Cougars dug deep with a mighty second half defensive effort, an improbable field goal, and three TDs from a pair of super sophomores in lifting Clovis (4-2) to a 24-21 comeback victory over Clovis East (3-3) in a league opener at Lamonica Stadium.
“Sometimes we have to find out what you are going to be made of once you get punched in the mouth and they punched us in the mouth and had us reeling,” Clovis coach Rich Hammond said. “I’m really proud of the way our guys came back.”
Clovis East drew first blood behind senior Chandler Hamilton’s touchdown runs of 44 and 3 yards in the first quarter for a 13-0 lead while the defense held Clovis, who came in averaging 40 points, scoreless through the first quarter and a half.
The Cougars broke through with 4:53 left in the second as uber talented Nate Johnson took a reverse and hit the edge for a 28-yard touchdown. This came after Johnson had a TD on the same reverse called back for holding a series earlier.
“The first time I thought we scored and saw our coaches put their hands up and say stay out there,” Johnson said. “Later I told myself ‘I have to get it in again.’”
Clovis East responded with a methodical drive led by quarterback Sean Kelly, capped off by Jo’Nation Dejohnette’s 2-yard TD leap over the pile. A 2-point conversion was good for a 21-7 halftime leads.
But therein lies the rub; In both losses this season – 21-14 to Sanger and 20-17 to San Joaquin Memorial – Clovis East held halftime lead.
And sure enough, a fired up Cougars defense, led by Keanu Williams, Ayden Merrihew, and a rejuvenated Nick Easter at linebacker, stopped the Timberwolves vaunted running game on fourth down at the 40 on the first possession after halftime.
Two touchdown runs by sophomore Tristan Risley, a 2-yard gash up the middle midway through the third and a 33-yard burst early in the fourth knotted the game at 21.
Christian Smith recovered a fumble on the following kickoff and Clovis marched to the 13 where soccer-player-turned-place-kicker Ron Rocha booted a 30-yard field goal from the right hash, the eventual game winner.
“We kick those field goals every day and we never make it from the right hash – and he nails it,” Hammond said with country-wide smile. “That’s what’s beautiful about high school football, you never know who’s going to step up.”
Now for the controversy.
After Clovis forced Clovis East into a 4th and 27 from the 36, Hamilton made a leaping grab at the 2-yard line and fell into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. However, it was ruled no catch by conferring referees, negating a sensational play and a late lead, despite video evidence suggesting otherwise.
Regardless, after forcing a punt with 1:13 left, the Timberwolves had one more chance but Moses Saenz intercepted a Kelly pass just in the end zone.
“For us to get this win under our belt is monumental for our kids to build some energy and cohesion,” Hammond said. “We overcame some things tonight and am really, really proud of the effort and energy.”
Clovis faces Central (6-0) on Thursday at Lamonica while Clovis East takes on Clovis North (5-1) Friday at Lamonica.