ALBUQUERQUE — Give up two big plays, make six big plays. Simple math, and the Clovis Wildcats are moving on in the Class 5A playoffs.
The Wildcats never trailed in the second half and rode six Highland turnovers to a comfortable 35-14 win in Saturday’s first-round game at F.M. Wilson Stadium.
Quran Wiggins rushed 23 times for 125 yards and two scores, and Raymond Beachum accounted for the Wildcats’ other three touchdowns and 131 yards of offense to earn Clovis (5-6) a another shot at second-seeded La Cueva.
The defending state champion Bears, who dealt Clovis a 41-21 defeat earlier this season, will host the Wildcats in a 7 p.m. Friday matchup, also at Wilson. La Cueva (9-1) had a first-round bye.
Senior Fred Kelly forced two fumbles and recovered two others, and the Wildcat offense responded with 21 points off Hornet turnovers.
“I was going hard for my teammates, I was selling out every play,” said Kelly, who forced a fumble early in the second quarter and recovered another to snuff a Hornet drive at the Clovis 1. “I was saying in my head that nobody could stop me, and I was getting after it.”
The Wildcat offense, meanwhile, took the extra possessions and went with a ball-control strategy. Clovis ran 63 offensive plays, while Highland (8-3) managed 38.
“It gives us more energy, gets us pumped up, getting the ball back all the time,” said Beachum, who scored on runs of 3 and 22 yards, and made it a two-possession game with a 47-yard catch down the sidelines from Jordan Hill in a 21-point third quarter. “It was a nice feeling.”
Meanwhile, on the Hornet sideline, coach Gary Sanchez said he hoped the feeling wouldn’t last long. He noted the Hornets finished 3-7 last season and had nothing to be ashamed of against a bigger Clovis team that wasn’t as much of an underdog as the bracket might have indicated.
“They played tough and took advantage of size and strength,” Sanchez said. “You can’t turn the ball over and we did, way too much.”
With Highland’s speed — the Hornets are a perennial favorite in boys track — Clovis coach Darren Kelley said being physical was the goal.
“This time of the year, the team that plays toughest is the team that wins,” Kelley said, “and we did a good job of being physical.”
Of Highland’s six turnovers, four were lost fumbles inside their 40, one was a yard from a game-tying touchdown in the second quarter, and the final was an academic interception with 40 seconds to play. Clovis finished without a turnover.
Highland led late in the first quarter, when Dylan Chavez found Julian Sanchez for a 4-yard reception to close an play drive aided by a 17-yard Jesse Ortega catch on third down.
The Hornets’ other touchdown tied matters briefly at 14 in the third quarter, when David Brown broke a pair of tackles on a flat route and went 62 yards down the right sideline.
“Basically, that’s the same thing we’ve been doing all year,” said Kelley, in his only complaint on the afternoon. “We had two people with a chance to make the play. We didn’t need a big hit; we just needed to knock him out of bounds.”
Wiggins had touchdown runs of 1 and 6 yards.