ALBUQUERQUE — Tre Orozco said the third-quarter stiff-arm from Ronnie Daniels felt like a punch.
A quarter later, Daniels later dealt the final blow.
The La Cueva senior ran for 263 yards and all three Bear touchdowns, including a 22-yard burst down the right sideline with 1:44 left to push defending champion La Cueva past the upset-minded Clovis Wildcats 21-14 in Friday’s Class 5A quarterfinal at Wilson Stadium.
La Cueva heads to Las Cruces next week to take on sixth-seeded Mayfield in a rematch of last season’s state title game. Clovis, the No. 10 seed in Class 5A, finished its season 5-7 — only the fourth losing season in 33 years under Eric Roanhaus.
But just like the season full of struggle, Friday’s quarterfinal saw the Wildcats finished strong. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Daniels scored on touchdown runs of 55 and 17 yards in the first quarter, making it look easy until the Wildcats survived the second quarter and dominated the third.
La Cueva, which had scored 90 points in its previous two contests against Clovis — and 55 two weeks ago in a one-point District 2-5A championship loss to top-seeded Manzano — didn’t get in the end zone for a 35:19 stretch that saw the underdog Wildcats make their comeback.
“We came in here and we had to go hard, get a stop,” senior linebacker Kevin Armstrong said. “We got stops.”
La Cueva coach Fred Romero figured the Bears (10-1) would have no problem in the second half, after outgaining Clovis 254-60 in the first half and having deep drives snuffed by a lost fumble and a Tucker Martin interception in the end zone.
“We were confident at the half,” Romero said. “We figured we’d do the same thing. They started moving the football and we stopped, and they got some turnovers.”
The Bears just 28 yards and no first downs on their first four second-half drives.
“Kevin Armstrong and Juan Rivas, those guys really stepped up and got the guys believing we could get stops,” Clovis assistant Darren Kelley said.
The Wildcat offense took advantage in the fourth quarter. They needed fourth-down heroics from quarterback Jordan Hill on their first scoring drive, as he avoided a sack to stay alive and found Raymond Beachum wide open for a 4-yard scoring toss.
The Wildcats forced a punt on the ensuing La Cueva drive, and got a 17-yard run on fourth down from Beachum to move the ball to the La Cueva 34. Three plays later, senior Quran Wiggins fought through a pair of Bear tacklers just past the line of scrimmage and rumbled 24 yards for the tying score.
In a 10-play, 77-yard drive to stave off Clovis, Daniels accounted for all but seven yards, including a 21-yard reception to move the drive into Clovis territory.
“(Daniels) hurt us, especially the last drive,” Clovis tackle Chris Sharp said. “He drove it deep on us.”
Daniels, who is heading to Texas Tech University in January, finished with 304 of La Cueva’s 367 yards.
After a bruising 49-0 loss in 2009 and a 41-21 setback this season to the Bears, a close score probably wasn’t what the state expected. But Orozco, who led the Clovis defense and comes in as Clovis’ top candidate at quarterback next season, said the team wasn’t going to go out on such a sour note.
“Everyone was ready to play and everyone was focused,” Orozco said. “It was win or go home, so we went out and gave it our all.”