The sound of helmets clashing, the marching band warming up to the tune of their fight song and crowds cheering echoed throughout Tom Flores Stadium in Sanger.
It was a big day for many athletes in the Central Valley, as high school football made its return to the gridiron.
But for Clovis High School quarterback Nate Johnson and running back Tristan Risley, it was simply just another day at the office, as the offensive duo combined for five touchdowns in the Cougars 35-12 opening night victory over Sanger.
The pair have been doing this for a while, dating back to middle school when the two suited up in the Clovis Cowboy Youth football program, in some instances even playing against each other.
“’It’s just really crazy now we went from being like eight year olds in oversized jerseys and oversized pants, to now being seniors in high school and playing beside them it’s just really fun.” Johnson said.
The two bring more than just talent on the field according to head coach Rich Hammond.
“You’re looking at that senior leadership that you expect to have in a team and those guys really kind of came out and led everybody to start the game.” Hammond said.
But the team’s strong chemistry goes beyond the two star players, as years of playing experience dating back to even before high school just make playing much easier.
“We just felt good. We’ve been playing since middle school and elementary school,” Risley said. “So we just connect really well and no matter what I’m calling my blocks and they’re doing their jobs right and I’m doing my job right.”
The team orchestrated a productive offense to kickoff the game, as in the first drive Johnson connected with Nic Viau for a 70-yard touchdown to give Clovis the early 7-0 lead.
As Sanger took over on offense and threatened in the red zone, Carlos Mack – a transfer from Edison High School – stepped up to intercept a what would be game-tying touchdown pass.
That set up an 80-yard drive that culminated in Risley running in for an easy one-yard touchdown to make it 14-0. He scored on the following offensive drive with seconds left in the first half, scoring in all three of their possessions to make it 21-0.
Johnson connected with Viau for a 15-yard touchdown to extend Clovis’ lead 28-0 heading into halftime.
Clovis gave up two touchdowns in the second half to Sanger to cut its deficit 28-12, but Risley capped off the night with a 39-yard touchdown to post up the game’s final score of 35-12.
Despite the victory, Hammond made it clear in his postgame talk with the Cougars that the team had a decline in the second half and needed to remain productive throughout the entire game.
“We just miss things by a little bit. You expect to see that in a game one right, you’re not going to be perfect or fine,” Hammond said. “I thought we just made little mistakes that we got to correct, and that’s the process of practicing and having these game experiences so you can keep learning and growing as a team.”