The offensive stars who have helped Clovis North High School capture two Tri-River Athletic Conference titles and two Central Section crowns over the past four seasons have departed.
Former Bee All-Stars such as Bolu Olorunfunmi (UCLA), Christian Rossi (Fresno City) and Tymon Locklin (New Mexico State) play on Saturdays now.
But the retooled Broncos, now more gritty than flashy, remain a section force, as evidenced by Friday’s performance at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Clovis North, ranked sixth in the section by The Bee, parlayed Noah Haupt’s late interception into Jayson Lee’s winning touchdown run during a 20-17 TRAC-opening victory over No. 5 Clovis West.
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“We have to grind,” Broncos coach Tim Simons said. “That’s what we believe we can do.”
Grind is exactly what Haupt, Lee and Co. did against the Golden Eagles.
Haupt came up with the game-changing play for a defense that limited Clovis West to 32 rushing yards on 29 carries when he intercepted an Adrian Martinez pass on a third-and-four play from the Golden Eagles’ 32 with 2:57 left and returned it 38 yards to the 9.
Clovis West was attempting to milk the clock leading 17-13 following a 21-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass from Martinez to Caleb Kelly with 5:49 to go.
“I was reeling back, trying to stay behind everyone,” Haupt said. “The ball just came to my hands. Then I looked to the right and saw a bunch of green, so I took that route. It feels good. This puts us on track to defend the TRAC championship.”
This puts us on track to defend the TRAC championship.
Clovis North linebacker Noah Haupt said of the Broncos’ 20-17 victory over Clovis West
Lee, the epitome of a grinder who worked hard for his 84 yards on 20 carries, took it from there. He rushed to the 4 on first down, to the 1 on second and received a boost from his offensive line while getting in for the winning score with 1:40 left.
“There was a little hole. I just powered in, kept my feet moving and got in there, barely. It was a close one,” Lee said. “The line just kept pushing. I’ve got to give it to them. They worked their butts off.”
So did the Broncos’ defense, which received two sacks apiece from Zoe Holloway and Cole Billhofer among 11 stops for losses by the Dave Steele-coordinated unit. Billhofer’s sacks came on consecutive plays during Clovis West’s last possession.
“To hold (the Golden Eagles) to 17 points is really difficult with their offense,” Simons said. “Our defense played so well. Our defensive coaches, led by Dave Steele, did a great job.”
Up next for the two-time defending TRAC champion Broncos, who won section titles in Division I in 2012 and D-II in 2011, is No. 19 Clovis East on Oct. 16 at Lamonica Stadium. The Timberwolves put a scare into top-ranked Clovis this week, leading 14-7 and 21-20 in the first half before falling to the Cougars 49-21.
“We have a lot of pride,” Simons said. “We knew this would be a big obstacle. It’s a great start, but there are four other really good teams in our league this year. I’m predicting a war every week, for us and everyone else.”
Hard-fought battles were the norm around TRAC during round one.
JJ Wills and Sean Kuenzinger helped Clovis break open a tight game, with Wills scoring on two runs and Kuenzinger throwing scoring passes of five yards to Coltin Velasquez and four yards to Fabian Serna.
The Cougars (6-0, 1-0) were bolstered by a Trevor Hartmann-led goal-line stand to close the first half, then pitched a shutout in the second.
Coach Rich Hammond was particularly pleased with the job his defense did against Clovis East star sophomore running back Marcus Washington, who was limited 130 yards on 29 carries after rushing for more than 260 yards against Clovis last year.
“For us to show up and play him so tough was a big thing,” Hammond said. “I’ve very excited about how we played defensively in the second half.”
The Cougars’ defense received two sacks from Jared Hill, a forced fumble by Josh Hokit, a fumble recovery by Dylan Aguirre and an interception by Peyton McNair.
Buchanan, meanwhile, edged Central 17-13 on Thursday behind Chibuikem Dunu’s 215 rushing yards. Dunu’s 63-yard scoring run in the third quarter was the difference.
Chowchilla charges ahead – A change in offseason commitment combined with the emergence of a very talented junior class have been the catalysts to a hot start by Chowchilla, The Bee’s second-ranked team in D-IV.
Chowchilla improved to 5-1 while spoiling Kerman’s Tom Hanks-themed homecoming with a 46-21 North Sequoia League-opening win.
Following a 4-6 season in 2013 marred by character issues, according to coach Alex Pittz, the Redskins toughened their offseason commitment requirements. That led to a steep decline in the team’s numbers, with 17 players suiting up for a 31-7 playoff loss to Golden West that capped a 6-5 season n 2014.
The seniors who stuck it out have fit flawlessly with a junior class led by tight end/safety Bernardo Bustillos, running back/linebacker Ronnie Reyes, fullback/defensive end Alfredo Buenrostro and quarterback/defensive back Ryan Selby for a team whose only loss came against D-V top-ranked Immanuel. And Chowchilla led 8-7 before the Eagles pulled away in the third quarter.
“We have seniors who bring a lot of toughness and commitment to the program, and a junior class who have only lost two or three games in two years,” Pittz said. “They bring that calmness and confidence in game situations that really helps us out. The two classes are really meshing well together. We’ve got a combination of talent and toughness that has made for a good season.”
We’ve got a combination of talent and toughness that has made for a good season.
Chowchilla coach Alex Pittz said after his team improved to 5-1 with a 46-21 win over Kerman
The Redskins won their fourth straight game Friday behind running backs Alex Gutierrez (23 carries for 164 yards) and Anthony Stewart (16 carries for 113 yards and three touchdowns), who operate behind an offensive line led by senior right tackle Gary Nieuwkoop.
Defensively, Chowchilla produced three scores (Gutierrez’s 32-yard fumble return and interception returns by Reyes of 27 yards and Damon Perry of 25 yards). The interception returns came over the final five minutes as Chowchilla broke open a 26-21 game. Perry’s was his fourth, and second for a score, in three games since a promotion from the junior varsity.
“That was a really good win for us,” Pittz said. “(The 2-3 Lions) are much better than their record, and the score was not indicative of how the game went at all.
“Our kids have worked hard. We’re very happy with them. We feel like we have a special group of guys, but our league is very tough. And games like this are a perfect example of that. We have to care care of business and come ready to play every week.”
Hanford escapes scare – Tenth-ranked Hanford emerged from Friday as one of the section’s final five undefeated teams … barely.
The Bullpups (7-0) committed six turnovers, three of which produced or led to scores, while holding off Redwood 28-26 in the West Yosemite League.
Coach Josh Young said Hanford remained undefeated along with Clovis, Ridgeview, Tulare and Immanuel – who are all 6-0 – thanks to a defense led by end Ellix Jimmeye and linebackers Kaipo Barnes, Will Pepe and Andrew Gomez.
6 turnovers committed by Hanford in a 28-26 win over Redwood
“It definitely wasn’t our best game,” Young said. “Our defense had to play awfully well since we gave them six extra tries. I was proud of how they played.”
Hanford found itself in a 14-0 hole early as the defense’s only real blemish, a 74-yard run by Michael Bean, set up a two-yard scoring pass from Frankie Ayon to Brayden Melvin that was followed by Cooper Allen’s 22-yard interception return.
The Bullpups stormed back to go up 28-14 by late in the third quarter behind two touchdown passes from Ryan Johnson (an 80-yarder to Brandon Sanchez and a 39-yarder to Leonard Glass), and scoring runs by Joseph McDaniel covering 1 and 52 yards.
An 87-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Alonzo Ozuna made it 28-20, and another long fumble return – this one for 65 yards by Patrick Vega – led to the Rangers’ final touchdown. Ayon scored on a five-yard run before Hanford denied a potential tying two-point conversion.
Redwood had one last chance, but a Hail Mary pass from near midfield was batted down on the final play.
“We found a way, though it wasn’t pretty,” Young said. “We weathered the storm. I think we’ll learn from last night.”
We found a way, though it wasn’t pretty.
Hanford coach Josh Young
The Bullpups – who are without dynamic multipurpose star Juwuane Hughes, out six to eight weeks with a broken left forearm suffered Sept. 18 – remain on track for a second consecutive epic Kings County rivalry game Nov. 6 against Lemoore. Only Golden West (2-4) next week and Mt. Whitney (4-2) on Oct. 23 stand in the way of arriving at the annual Milk Can game undefeated.
Lemoore is 5-2 overall and 3-0 in the WYL following a 49-13 win over Golden West. Last year, the Tigers won the matchup of undefeated teams 24-13.