Overtime felt inevitable.
After all, every time Buchanan scored, Clovis responded.
Trailing 45-38 with 1:45 left in the game, the Cougars faced 1st-and-goal at Buchanan’s five-yard line. Another Clovis response seemed to be in order.
But the handoff between Clovis quarterback Nate Johnson and running back Tristan Risley went awry. Risley sprawled for the football, trying to prevent his first ever fumble in his varsity high school career.
Buchanan landed on it, securing not only the fumble, but a victory over the Clovis Cougars in a back-and-forth shootout.
“What I’m proud of is that [our defense] bent but didn’t break,” said Buchanan head coach Matt Giordano. “We missed a lot of checks out there, but you know what, they were able to put that behind them at the most crucial part of the game and come up with the big play.”
Buchanan’s defense forced three turnovers, intercepting Johnson twice before recovering Risley’s fumble.
Nonetheless, Johnson put on a strong performance for Clovis on Thursday. Johnson, who already has seven Division-I college football offers including Michigan and Fresno State, passed for 321 yards and four touchdowns.
He also ran for 65 yards and a rushing touchdown as well.
“Every time we needed a big play, Nate found a way to get it done,” said Clovis head coach Rich Hammond. “If you saw his arm tonight, it’s obviously something special when the ball comes out of his hand.”
Johnson connected with two wide receivers for most of the night — junior Nic Viau and senior Andrew Dowie. Viau finished the game with 10 receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns, while Dowie recorded eight catches for 118 yards and a pair of scores as well.
The Cougars also had a 100-yard rusher in Risley, who ran for 122 yards on 26 carries. His fumble was Clovis’ final offensive play, but Hammond said the game’s result did not rest on Risley’s fumble.
“[Risley] is a great player and he deserves a ton of credit for what he did. I’ll be honest, you can’t blame one single person [for the loss],” Hammond said. “If anybody’s going to get blamed, it comes down on me. I’m the head coach of this football team.”
Clovis drove 78 yards on its opening drive and scored the game’s first touchdown.
Johnson picked up 46 of those yards rushing, before showing off his arm with a 3rd-and-12 throw to Viau in a tight window.
Viau pushed his way into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown catch with 6:08 left in the first quarter.
Buchanan answered with a score on its opening drive. The Bears drove 75 yards and tied the game with a 29-yard touchdown run from senior running back Cade Uehling.
Johnson threw an interception to Bears safety Jerry Rangel on Clovis’ next drive. Buchanan scored on the very next play — quarterback Jayden Mandal found Brody Bendoski for a 32-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Clovis and Buchanan traded field goals early in the second quarter, as Buchanan built a 17-10 lead.
But Clovis’ prized junior quarterback pushed the Cougars to a halftime lead.
Johnson tied the game at 17 with a five-yard rushing touchdown. Buchanan went three-and-out on its following possession, and Johnson got back to work for Clovis.
He completed back-to-back, 23-yard passes to Dowie, the second of which resulted in a touchdown that gave Clovis a 24-17 halftime lead.
It only took Buchanan two plays after halftime to even the game.
Michael Runnels broke off a 60-yard run, followed by Caden Rodgers punching in a touchdown from 15 yards out.
“My favorite play was Michael Runnels [and] that 60-yard run,” Rodgers said. “It was amazing. The little kid stepped up and he filled some pretty big shoes tonight.”
Buchanan retook a 31-24 lead with Mandal’s 8-yard rushing touchdown. The Cougars responded with Johnson’s second touchdown pass to Dowie, tying the game at 31 with 9:29 left in the fourth quarter.
The tie lasted about 10 seconds.
Hayden Petersen returned the ensuing kickoff about 90 yards for a touchdown. Buchanan took the lead again, 38-31.
“We had a hell of a kick, [Petersen] caught it and our kicker put it in the perfect position,” Hammond said. “But No. 23 is a good football player. We’ve got to be one play better there.”
Viau caught a slant from Johnson and took it to the endzone for a 42-yard touchdown catch-and-run. It resulted in the fifth tie of the game, 38-38, with 6:34 remaining.
On its final scoring drive, Buchanan fed the ball to its three-man running back group — Rodgers, Uehling and Runnels.
Rodgers scored his second touchdown of the night from 15 yards out to give Buchanan a 45-38 lead, one they did not surrender.
Rodgers finished the night with 61 rushing yards, which was the same yards total as Uehling. Runnels rushed for a team-high 65 yards, and Mandal picked up 31 yards on the ground.
The Bears totaled 218 team rushing yards on Thursday, a big reason why they kept pace with Clovis’ explosive pass offense.
“We got some speed [and] I’m power,” Rodgers said of the Bears’ running back group. “We got everyone running downhill and our O-Line did great.”
Mandal passed for 161 yards and a touchdown in the win.
Buchanan (3-0) has now defeated reigning TRAC and Central Section champion Central and preseason league favorite Clovis. In control of its own destiny on its path to a league championship, the Bears face Clovis North at Veterans Memorial Stadium next Friday.
“We’re excited,” Rodgers said. “We’re ready to go 5-0 and win the TRAC. It’s been a long season for us, and we’re ready to go out there and win two more games.”