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More than a scoreboard; Central and Clovis leave it all on the field

It was only fitting in a year filled with so much loss and heartbreak that a football game would bring so much joy and with it, a mountain of emotion.

On a single night on an improbable mid-March season opener, the defending state champion Central Grizzles and the Clovis Cougars were a symbol of hope, perseverance, and resolve. After enduring twelve months of the unknown, there was finally a real football game. No more talk, waiting, predicting.

And after 48 gut-wrenching minutes, players broke down, the emotional toll too much to handle. After the game both head coaches – Rich Hammond of Clovis and Kyle Biggs of Central – were drenched in sweat in 57 degree weather, fighting tooth and nail for their players.

We wondered out loud whether football games would feel like a glorified scrimmage, a 5-game Tri-River Athletic Conference schedule with a mere 14 days to prepare for.

Heck no, not these kids. They played as if their hair was on fire, like every play could be their last. Twelve months of pent up emotions, a roller coaster ride filled with stops and starts too numerous to count. Hammond said of his players, “I’ve never been prouder of a group of kids.”

How could he not, after everything they’ve been through due to Covid.

After not knowing if there would be a season a few months ago, Clovis and Central played a game for the ages. (Photo by Austin Kemp)

When the players trotted out for the opening kickoff the moment felt surreal, like a feel-good Disney movie. And wouldn’t you know it, Clovis’ Jaden Carrillo took that opening kickoff, zigged and zagged and outran the coverage for a touchdown. Are you kidding me? Who was writing this script?

Want more Hollywood? On Saturday an emotional Hammond told three seniors on that kickoff team that if they execute their blocks they can start off their senior season with something they will remember for the rest of their lives. And viola! it worked! After the play one of the three turned to Hammond and said “I am going to remember that play for the rest of my life.”

As well you should young man, as well you should.

And yet, there is a scoreboard and yes, Clovis had the Mighty Grizzlies – owners of five straight perfect league seasons – on the ropes, bolting to a 21-0 lead mid-way through the first quarter. And yes, Central came back and to beat the Cougars 35-31 on a 41-yard TD pass from D.J. Stevenson to Marquise Greene with 24.7 seconds left. What a sweet memory for the Clovis seniors it would have been to slay the giants of the TRAC.

Yes, life is hard. Losing a high school football game is hard – especially after fighting so terribly just for the right to play.

But the game was much, much bigger than a scoreboard; it was a victory for the human spirit. A blessing to those who watched and to those who played. A symphony for the soul.

Bravo Central and Clovis for fighting the good fight and showing us what perseverance is. Bravo indeed.


DJ Stevenson 9-12, 176, 2 TD; 16 rushes, 92 yards, 2 TD
Ah’Marion Gaines-Smith 17 rushes, 103 yards, Jesiah Lindsey 7 rushes, 79 yards, Aidan Fortenberry 4 rushes, 32 yards, TD
Marquise Greene 2 catches, 63 yards, 2 TD, Angel Gonzalez 52 catches, 55 yards


Nate Johnson 4-10 65 yards; 9 rushes, 19 yards, TD
Tristan Risley 21 rushes, 163 yards 2 TD
Andrew Dowie 2 catches, 58 yards
Christian Smith 1 sack
TURNOVERS: Central 3 (2 fumbles, one on downs) Clovis 2 (1 INT, one on downs)

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