Clovis coach Rich Hammond knew coming into their game against Bullard his team would be tested, especially after winning its first two games of the year by identical scores of 42-14.
And true to form, Clovis started off strong against Bullard with two touchdown passes from Isaiah Robles to Reef Dove in the first half, but needed to hold strong in the second half to fend off the Knights in a hard-fought 17-14 win at Lamonica Stadium to move to 3-0 on the season.
“This was an intense and extremely physical football game,” Hammond said. “When you can win close games that’s a good thing to build up as you move forward.”
Clovis made it look easy on the first drive of the game with a steady diet of short passes culminating with an 8-yard touchdown throw from Robles, a transfer from Bullard, to a wide open Dove in the left corner of the end zone.
Dove, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound senior would show off his speed on the second play of the second quarter when he caught a slant from Robles from his slot position and raced 89-yards for a 14-0 lead.
“It felt amazing,” Dove said. “Our coaches told us that they were going to try and get into our heads but I didn’t let that happen. I just kept playing.”
The Cougars beat the Knights 17-13 and 35-28 the past two seasons in non-league action.
And Bullard certainly didn’t lay down after down 14-0, using a 9-yard touchdown run from Kai Sunamoto with 7:03 left in the second quarter and cutting the deficit to 14-7 going into halftime.
A 28-yard field goal from Connor Graham at the 10:20 mark in the fourth quarter gave the Cougars a 17-7 lead before Bullard stormed back with a 32-yard touchdown run from Sunamoto, his second of the game, with just over six minutes left.
Bullard had one more chance with the ball starting on their own 20-yard line with 2:02 left. However, Moses Saenz picked off a pass with 38 seconds left in the game, sealing the victory.
“It’s good to win close and find what it’s like to have your feet in the fire,” said Hammond, the 10-year Cougar head coach. “I’m really proud of how the kids played and for the most part kept our composure.”
Clovis held Bullard running back Marcus Fulcher to 50 yards on 17 carries before he left with an injury and didn’t return for the second half.
Dove, who also returns punts and kickoffs, finished the night with six catches for 143 yards while Robles, who has thrown 12 touchdowns with one interception on the season, passed for 219 yards on 17 of 26 passing attempts.
“He’s a great kid, super competitive and loves to play the game,” Hammond said of Dove. “The coaches and his teammates love him. He’s not the biggest guy but he has a big heart and is tough and fast.”
The game was marred by plenty of penalties from both squads and went late into the evening after the 7:50 p.m. kickoff.
Still, any win is sweet and the Cougars carry momentum as they head to Salinas next Friday, looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2015.
“We have to come out and fight every time, no game is a given,” Dove said. “My teammates are all there for me and we are all working toward a common goal.”