In front of a packed Lamonica Stadium on hand to celebrate the Olympic-sized achievements of a past Clovis Cougar, the Clovis High football team used a big second half to pull away from the visiting Bakersfield Drillers on Friday, 34-14.
40 minutes prior to the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, the line to buy game tickets ended at the amphitheater in the middle of Clovis High School’s campus, several hundred feet away from the stadium. A high demand is typical for a Cougars’ home opener, but an extra throng of fans arrived at Lamonica to welcome home Clovis’ own Olympic star.
With her 2020 Olympic silver medal around her neck, Jenna Prandini rode into the stadium on Ol’ Blue, a restored 1957 fire truck. Its sirens blared as she waved to the crowd and reminisced on her time attending football games as a Clovis High student.
“I’ve never rode on the fire truck before, but I ran the flags onto the field as the [student-body] president,” Prandini said.
She later performed the official coin toss, won by her alma mater.
Clovis elected to receive the kickoff and scored first on an 8-yard touchdown run by Tristan Risley in the first quarter.
On the next Bakersfield drive, junior Clovis cornerback Jaden Carrillo intercepted a pass and returned it to the 5-yard line. Bakersfield recovered a fumble on a botched handoff two plays later, squandering Clovis’ opportunity to add to its lead.
Clovis went ahead 14-0 when Risley scored his second touchdown, a 1-yard plunge with 9:38 left in the second quarter. The drive was aided by a 51-yard completion between quarterback Nate Johnson and wide receiver Nic Viau.
Bakersfield responded with a long drive that took over seven minutes and ended in a 4-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Tybo Rogers, cutting the Drillers’ deficit to 14-6.
Clovis missed another chance to extend its lead when they reached Bakersfield’s 7-yard line with 20 seconds left. Johnson took off on a scramble but failed to get out-of-bounds to stop the clock. Time ran out and the first half ended.
“It wasn’t really a great first half for [our] offense especially,” Johnson said. “At halftime, Coach Hammond got in our faces and told us we had to pick it up in the second half.”
“We had a couple little things that were the difference between getting scores,” Hammond said. “We easily could have had 28 points at halftime. So, we had that conversation, and I think one of the best things about Nate is we’re both very passionate people and we can have that conversation and get back together because there’s love and trust.”
In the third quarter, Clovis drove down to Bakersfield’s 18-yard line and stalled again, turning the ball over on downs. Drillers quarterback Ty Monteiro connected with receiver Daylon Leach for an 81-yard touchdown pass that, with a successful two-point conversion, tied the game at 14 with 2:50 remaining in the quarter.
The Drillers threatened to upset Jenna Prandini Night, until the Cougars’ offense woke up to the tune of 20 unanswered points.
Johnson threw his only touchdown pass of the evening to Viau, a 17-yard strike to give Clovis a 21-14 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Following an interception by Clovis senior Ulysses Pulido at his own 5-yard line, Risley scored the game-sealing touchdown from 22 yards out.
Back-up running back Terraj Manning scored a 62-yard touchdown with nine seconds left to finish the scoring.
Risley had 143 yards rushing, 34 yards receiving, and three touchdowns on the night. Bakersfield played with two high safeties for most of the game, so Hammond went to his senior workhorse often.
“That’s one less guy in the box for Risley, so it makes it hard not to say, ‘Okay we’re going to run it,’” Hammond said.
Risley is already at 303 yards and six touchdowns in two games this season, and Hammond said he is quickly approaching the school’s all-time rushing record. It’s possible the record may be broken before league play.
“I’ve been keeping my head down, getting as many yards as I can and not thinking about anything else,” Risley said. “No pain, nothing. Everything I’m doing is getting to that end zone.”
Risley might have been more motivated by the fact that a former middle school track and field coach watched him play Friday.
“[Prandini] coached me when I was in middle school at track,” Risley remembered. “She helped me through hurdles and do what I want to do for football and track and keep my speed up. It’s a big deal to have her here.”
While Risley and the Cougars were in the locker room at halftime, on the field, Prandini received a proclamation from Clovis Mayor Jose Flores, remarks from Clovis Unified School District Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell, and a street sign that read “Jenna Prandini Drive.”
A portion of Wrenwood Avenue north of Clovis High School campus will be renamed in honor of Prandini.
“Every day after volleyball practice, I got picked up on that street by my mom,” Prandini said. “I know that street very well… I didn’t know it was happening, so when [Flores] handed me that plaque with my name on it, it was pretty crazy.”
Clovis High students will now wait for pickup on Jenna Prandini Drive. Prandini addressed the Lamonica Stadium crowd directly after she received the proclamation and street sign.
“It’s so amazing to be able to share this amazing night with you guys,” Prandini said. “From elementary school to Clark to all the way to Clovis High, my family, my teachers, my coaches, my teammates have all pushed me to get this Olympic medal. I couldn’t be any more proud to come back home and share it with you guys. Thank you so much for the support. I felt it all the way in Tokyo.”
Clovis (2-0) will play at Ridgeview next Friday, while Bakersfield (0-2) will travel up north again to play at Central High.