In a season of ups and downs for Clovis High football, it’s fitting the Cougars’ final game of 2019 featured both.
For the first 30 minutes of the game, however, it looked like everything was going downhill for Big Blue.
Surrendering 41 points to Bullard in the first half, Clovis dug itself into a hole it could never get out of, leading to a crushing 47-21 defeat to Bullard in Friday’s section quarterfinal round.
Clovis head coach Rich Hammond put the blame on himself for the Cougars’ early struggles.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to me,” Hammond said. “We were not readily prepared to play in the first half and it showed. Terrible timing to have a game like that, and the buck stops with me.”
Clovis could not stop Bullard’s potent rushing attack in the first half, a key factor to the Cougars falling behind early.
Senior Bullard running back Shalom Welch was especially troublesome for the Clovis defense, scoring three rushing touchdowns in the first half from 43, 40 and 53 yards out.
Welch would add a fourth rushing touchdown in the second half – this from 62 yards out – to finish his night with over 200 rushing yards.
Offensively, the Cougars could not sustain drives under the pressure of a ferocious Bullard pass rush. The offensive line struggled to protect Clovis quarterback Isaiah Robles, who took multiple sacks and lost a fumble in the first half.
A week after scoring eight touchdowns on their first eight drives against Arroyo Grande, the shoe was put on the other foot for Clovis, as the Cougars’ defense gave up touchdowns on the Knights’ first six offensive drives, leading to a 41-0 deficit at halftime.
Yet going into the second half, Robles and the Cougars were not ready to throw in the towel.
“In the second half, we did not give up, because that’s not what our team does,” Robles said.
“We never give up, no matter what.”
Robles connected with receiver Grant Lake for a nine-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to put Clovis on the scoreboard, then budding star running back Tristin Risely sparked more life into the Cougars offense with two rushing touchdowns in the second half.
The 21 points scored by Clovis would be too little, too late as the McLane Stadium clock hit zero, ending the 2019 Cougars football season.
It was a season of ups and downs, wins and losses, but Hammond doesn’t want his team to be defined by on-field results.
“[The coaches and I] are trying to teach kids life lessons about coming out, doing your best, sticking together and always believing in each other,” Hammond said. “We won close games this season, and I hope the kids take those games and life lessons with them.”
Sophomore Nate Johnson said it best, when speaking to his teammates after the game:
“We may not have had the best game, but it was an amazing season.”