Thirteengate: How Clovis High football played against too many and almost won

By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor

Only if you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of weeks is there a chance you haven’t heard the story. The one about the infamous Central versus Clovis High football game, the game difficult to believe if you weren’t there, and more difficult to believe if you were.

A game they’ll be talking about for years, one where old timers in the not-to-distant future will be sitting in a barber shop in Old Town Clovis reminiscing: “Remember that football game over there at Lamonica back in ’15, where lightning struck so dang-blasted much they moved the game two days later. Then those Cougar boys played against 13 Grizzlies and still almost won!”

And if you hear such tales, say, in the year 2042 you can check back in the Clovis Roundup archives of 2015 and verify this presumably tall-tale.

Below is a timeline of what transpired the fateful weekend of October 8-10, a 37-hour period as eerie and strange as The Twilight Zone, as though traveling through another dimension, a dimension of not only sight and sound but of mind (cue famous Twilight Zone music….)

  • Football game starts at 8:19 p.m. on Thursday, October 15 and was halted twice due to lightning and finally postponed by school administrators at 11:27 p.m.
  • Game resumes on Saturday morning some 36 hours later, October 17 at 10:30 a.m. with Clovis down 21-12, 6:06 left and the ball at the 1-yard line.
  • Clovis scores touchdown and 2-point conversion to make it 21-20.
  • Clovis marches down the field on Central the last two minutes and misses a potential 34-yard game winning field goal.
  • Central runs out the clock and wins the football game, sending Clovis to their first loss of the season.

Sounds wacky enough as is, right? But like looking at an old photograph from years ago, only to discover a long lost relative in the background, a mysterious picture was about to form.

Imagine this scenario just a few hours later……

SETTING: Clovis film session room.

PLAYER: “Wait coach, did I just see a bunch of defensive players out there for Central, like more than usual? Rewind that and pause it. Man, something didn’t look quite right.”

(Game tape is paused, players and coaches count 13 defensive players on the field during their last drive, the one where they came up short. Players and coaches sit stunned as they realize the offense was up against a Baker’s Dozen for a total of five plays and 12 players on the next play.)

COACH: “What just happened here?”

(Off in the distance a dog barks. A chair creaks. Leaves rustle by an open window)

PLAYER: “I knew something didn’t feel right out there.”

First Watergate, then Deflategate and now Thirteengate.

Later that afternoon Twitter explodes, the faces of Facebook are disgusted, national media outlets report the bizarre event in the coming days. But, there’s nothing that can be done to change the outcome of the game; it’s over. There’s no official protest, Clovis High lost the game. The head official admits the mind-boggling blunder. The commissioner of the CIF, Jim Critchlow, states he’s never seen such a debacle. A once undefeated team is now defeated.

Three questions pop into mind: 1) How do referees miss such an egregious error, those men in stripes who get paid real American dollars to count to eleven? 2) How do Clovis coaches not see what they were up against? 3) How do Central coaches not know how many players they send out onto the field? Like the Fifth Dimension, it was a surreal scene, not yet fully realized until after the fact.

Clovis head coach Rich Hammond, the spark plug of a man who coaches like his hair is on fire, can only tell his team to move past it; what’s happened is in the past. Focus on the future and be only concerned with the next opponent, a Buchanan team sitting at 2-0. A team they would in fact pummel 34-13 a week later.

But players, coaches, and those who witnessed such strange events can only think “what if?” and look back and tell the story – the almost-too-tall-tale of when the Cougars almost beat lightning, time, and 13 Grizzlies single-handedly.