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Clovis to play for state title

Clovis sophomores, left to right, Chris Wall, Garrett Draehn, Shad Durham, and Drew Spears cheer on the Wildcats during the third quarter of their Class 5A semifinal game Saturday against Highland at Leon Williams Stadium. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

Defensive end Jason Burns said Clovis’ football coaching staff never lost faith, even after the Wildcats dropped three of their first four games.

A 40-0 home loss to La Cueva in Week 4 was the low point of the season. But the Wildcats haven’t lost since, and they reached the Class 5A state championship game by beating Highland 13-0 Saturday at Leon Williams Stadium.

The Wildcats (9-3) rode another stellar defensive effort and Tanner Fickling’s two short touchdown runs to win their eighth straight game.

Clovis gets another shot at unbeaten La Cueva when it hosts Saturday’s state-title game.

Burns wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It's a revenge thing,” Burns said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

La Cueva (12-0) beat Las Cruces 35-0 in Saturday’s other semifinal and has won 25 straight games over the last two years.

Burns said the Wildcats’ turnaround started when the players started believing in themselves.

“We came together as a team,” said the burly senior, who helped limit Highland (9-3) to six yards in the second half, including minus-20 yards rushing. “We started to gain confidence and trust in each other.”

Clovis defensive coordinator Darren Kelley said the La Cueva loss was hard to take, but felt the Wildcats weren’t that far away from being a good team.

“We could see all along that we could be successful,” Kelley said. “We just had to learn the hard way.”

Nothing came easy for the Wildcats against Highland, which had won eight of nine games before running into a Clovis defense that has allowed 213 yards and seven points in two playoff games.

Clovis took advantage of a turnover to start the second half, taking over at the Highland 26-yard line when Matt Ulibarri pounced on a fumble on the kickoff return. After a pass interference call on third down kept the Wildcats alive, Fickling scored from a yard out to put Clovis up by two touchdowns.

The Wildcats defense did the rest, sacking Highland quarterback Ian Clark three times in the second half, including a 14-yard loss that left the Hornets with a fourth-and-29 from its 1-yard line with a little more than two minutes to go.

The Wildcats will be making their 17th state-title-game appearance under veteran coach Eric Roanhaus.

Clovis has won 10 state titles under Roanhaus, the last in 2001.