By Paul Meadors, Sports Reporter
What a swing.
That’s how Clovis head football coach Rich Hammond described a Lemoore touchdown catch out loud – perhaps to himself, perhaps to anyone within earshot – after the Tigers had taken a 17-14 lead with 18 seconds left until halftime.
As the case may be, Coach Hammond instinctively knew something that the stadium crowd at Lamonica Stadium and the players and coaches from Lemoore didn’t know; that the momentum shift that just floated in the opposite direction was about to swing back towards the Gold and Blue.
And when you have receivers like JJ Wills and Coltin Velasquez on your team, well, the decision – and play call – is simple. After a successful hook-and-ladder play and a penalty placed the Cougars on the 40-yard line of the Tigers, quarterback Sean Kuenzinger unleashed a Hail Mary with zero seconds left to a leaping Velasquez in the front of the south end zone for a 21-17 halftime lead and a mighty jolt of energy surged throughout the Clovis sideline.
It was momentum that the Cougars, further cementing their spot as one of the top teams in the Valley, would never relinquish as they rushed, threw and punished their way to a 41-24 victory in front of a massive student section to improve to 2-0 on the season.
“The guys we have on the outsides, there’s no way we’re sitting on it,” said coach Hammond about the decision go for it instead of kneeling down to end the half. “Those guys have a chance to make big plays at any time.”
Kuenzinger, a senior who started three games last season and finished with 323 yards passing, in youthful exuberance exclaimed this about his 1A and 1B receiving options: “Better than anyone in the Valley. They are amazing and make me look better. They work their tails off and we have a special connection. We’ve been working together for a long time.”
The hard-hitting defense made its presence known early and often as well. Jerod Hill’s bone-crushing hit on Lemoore quarterback Logan Ahlin forced him out of the game and later he pounced on a bad snap in the end zone for a touchdown to make it 27-17.
Overall, the Cougars put up 527-yards worth of offense led by Wills (120 receiving yards, 2 TDs), Velasquez (91 receiving yards, 1 TD) and running back Josh Hokit (106 rushing yards, 1 TD). Running back Tyson Fraser got the Cougars scoring started with a 7-yard TD in the first quarter.
But it’s the collective group the Cougars have become that most impresses Coach Hammond, an intense group with a healthy mix of veterans and young players, no one more important as the other.
“We don’t have guys that say ‘I didn’t get the ball or my touches this game.’” said Hammond, never at a loss for words. “Everyone is playing together as a group.”
“We have responded every time we have been down. That’s what’s amazing about those guys, every time they’ve answered.”