Ashton Rodriguez limped out of the locker room afterward, but he emerged a hero for the Sanger Apaches in their physical 14-10 victory over the Clovis East Timberwolves Thursday night at Lamonica Stadium.
The senior Sanger fullback rushed for a pair of goal-line touchdowns. The first score came on 4th and 1 from the 3-yard line, cutting Clovis East’s lead to 10-7 with 5:23 left in the third quarter. The second score, from 4 yards out, gave the Apaches the lead with 2:27 remaining in the game.
“[Rodriguez] is a hard runner who is tough to bring down, and he showed that a couple of times tonight,” said Sanger head coach Jorge Peña. “He was spinning, weaving, breaking tackles and all that.”
Standing at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, the steely-nerved Rodriguez played bigger than his size on both touchdowns.
“I just want to run straight and get in the endzone for my team,” Rodriguez said. “I try not to think about it too much, but those runs take real guts.”
Rodriguez’s first touchdown capped a 66-yard drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. Clovis East committed four penalties on the drive, resulting in 46 yards gained by Sanger. Clovis East twice stopped Sanger on third down, but a penalty granted the Apaches a first down both times.
Over the course of the game, Clovis East was called for 12 penalties for 103 yards. Sanger, by contrast, was called for two penalties for 30 yards. Clovis East head coach Ryan Reynolds expressed frustration with the officiating crew after the game.
“It’s every year that we have a close game where referees get involved, and they call these terrible calls consistently over and over and I’m tired of it,” Reynolds said.
One pivotal call came on Clovis East’s final drive of the game. Starting on their own 7-yard line, the Timberwolves reached Sanger’s 48-yard line with just over a minute remaining.
Clovis East quarterback Ty Miller attempted a pass to Maddox Merlo, but Sanger linebacker Joshua Almaguer jumped in front of it. Almaguer initially caught the ball, but it appeared that the ball slipped through his hands and hit the grass. He fell on top of the ball, and officials signaled an interception and change of possession.
Clovis East, holding no timeouts, watched Sanger run the clock out to finish the game. Reynolds said the freshman Miller was “strait-laced” after throwing the game-ending interception.
“He doesn’t let a lot of things bother him too much, and I’m sure he’s going to watch the film and be better next week,” Reynolds said. “I told him after the play that it was a good throw. [Almaguer] just made a really good play breaking to the ball.”
Miller completed 8-of-18 passes for 167 yards and rushed for 51 yards as well. He scored the game’s first touchdown, a 10-yard scoring run with 5:24 left in the second quarter. The Timberwolves scored again before the first half ended; Zach Rodriguez kicked a 29-yard field goal to give Clovis East a 10-0 lead at halftime.
In a physical game from beginning to end, Sanger (3-2) handed Clovis East (4-1) its first loss of the season. Afterward, the Apaches hoisted the Silver Spear, a trophy marking the Clovis East-Sanger rivalry. It’s not among the oldest rivalries in the Central Section but stands as one of the fiercest and most competitive.
“Part of it is the proximity,” Peña said. “Our school districts neighbor each other, and some kids attend Sanger Unified and end up at Clovis East, or vice versa… I think our kids are very similar to each other — tough high school kids who want to win football games.”
Next week, Clovis East begins league play by hosting Clovis North, while Sanger plays on the road against Edison.