By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
After learning his quarterback threw for six touchdowns in the biggest game of the season, Clovis Cougars head coach Rich Hammond uncharacteristically was a man of few words.
One word in fact: “Wow.”
A perfect word indeed, as his senior signal caller Sean Kuenzinger zipped the ball all over the field with precision and accuracy on his amazing night, a night where Clovis scored early and often in a 41-28 victory over Clovis North to move to 3-1 in the TRAC and 8-1 overall.
And what about those six touchdowns, good enough to tie the team record that’s stood for 14 years?
Well, for Kuenzinger who’s forever humble and often deflects praise to his teammates, the strong-armed kid has trouble soaking up what he just accomplished: “Honestly, it hasn’t hit me yet, the fact that I threw six touchdowns in game. But I know it’s an awesome feeling.”
Clovis North, which had won four in a row overall and sat atop the TRAC udefeated, fell to 3-1 and 5-4 overall, setting up a wild final week of the TRAC where they host Buchanan (3-1) while Clovis West (2-2) visits Clovis (3-1).
But this night belonged to Clovis. And on a beautiful October 30 evening, the Cougars who are just as potent throwing the ball as they are running the ball found the passing groove early as Kuenzinger targeted J.J. Wills for a 50-yard touchdown on the third play of the game; a double move from Wills, right over the top in the middle of the field, a play Wills says: “Felt good to get it all started.”
Gettin’ it all started is right: this was the first of three to Wills.
After Clovis North’s Jeremy Miller scored on a 10-yard touchdown run to tie the game 7-7 on the next possession, Kuenzinger again found Wills on a laser, hitting No. 80 right on the numbers from 15 yards out with 5:47 left in the first quarter.
Kuenzinger finished his record-setting night by completing 13-17 passes for 269 yards, 119 of those yards to Wills. Senior bookend Coltin Velasquez, who was often lined up in the slot position, caught two touchdowns and Tyson Frazer caught one.
With 1:40 left in the first quarter, Clovis North running back David Akande broke free for a nifty 23-yard touchdown run to tie the game. Clovis responded with a 31-yard touchdown to Frazier for a 20-14 lead after a missed point.
Velasquez’s first touchdown was a beauty. With 35 seconds left on the clock, Kuenzinger lofted a perfectly thrown ball to the corner of the end zone where the basketball star could go up and leap for it and a 27-14 halftime lead.
“He told me before the play, ‘fade to the outside’ and I knew he was going to throw me the ball after that,” said Velasquez.
But a great quarterback can also be as good as his offensive line, and Kuenzinger has one of the best in the Valley which includes right tackle sophomore Seth Nevills.
“We love blocking for him and he gives us a lot of credit,” said Nevills, the defending state heavyweight wrestling champion in 2015, as a freshman. “After every play he’ll tell us good job. He makes sure we are loved.”
Kuenzinger adds: “They work as hard as anyone else I know and are having a stellar season.”
And Kuenzinger understands his team is playing the right brand of football at the right time of the season.
“Our season is at its peak and we look to take that momentum into the Clovis West game for the TRAC title,” says Kuenzinger, a most respectful young man who still uses ‘yes sir’ when talking.
And yes, standing in the way of a potential No. 1 playoff seed in D-1 is Clovis West, their longtime rival, always the final game in the TRAC season, the team that could make life more difficult for the Cougars.
“It’s a big, big game because we have played well enough to have an opportunity to win a league championship,” Hammond said. “We have to win and finish it off. We have to play our best football next week.”