By Rick White
In a locker room filled with the low murmur of disappointment and teary-eyed teammates, Juan Gutierrez peeled off his purple jersey and shoulder pads for the final time.
A sun-splashed afternoon that started with so much promise quickly dissolved into one of the most painful days of his young life.
The heartache was inflicted by the mighty La Cueva Bears, who capped a two-year unbeaten run with their second straight Class 5A state title, whipping the Wildcats 40-0 in front of 5,000 fans Saturday at Leon Williams.
Gutierrez said he will be haunted most by the fact that the Wildcats didn’t play well.
“I’m going to have this sick feeling in my stomach the rest of my life,” said Gutierrez, a senior nose guard. “We just didn’t play as well as we could, and that includes me.”
In winning its 26th straight game, La Cueva became the first Albuquerque school to win back-to-back state football titles since the New Mexico Activities Association began sanctioning the playoffs in 1953.
And the Bears (13-0) did it in typical dominating fashion, led by a defense that has allowed just one touchdown all season.
“I don’t know a better way to end a career than to end it like this,” said La Cueva senior Zach Arnett, who rushed for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns. “We’re just trying to duplicate what’s been going on down here (in Clovis) for so long.”
Clovis (9-4) had won eight straight games since losing to La Cueva in September, but the home team was unable to generate much offense Saturday.
La Cueva outgained Clovis 386-23, holding the Wildcats to minus-23 yards in the second half with the help of three quarterback sacks.
“When you can’t block and can’t tackle, it’s hard to beat people,” said Clovis coach Eric Roanhaus, who had his Wildcats appearing in a state-title game for the 17th time in his 27 seasons at the school. “Our defense just spent too much time on the field.”
The game’s turning point came on the first play of the second quarter when La Cueva’s Clint McPeek burst through the middle of Clovis’ line and block John Props’ punt. Aaron Lewis recovered it in the end zone to give the Bears a 6-0 lead.
Arnett added a pair of touchdown runs before halftime, including a 64-yard burst, as La Cueva took a 21-0 lead.
La Cueva scored on its first two possessions of the second half — an 18-yard pass from Tyler Davis to Seth Johnson and a 16-yard run by Frankie Baca — to put to rest any hope of a Clovis comeback.
“There’s no doubt they’re the best team in the state,” Clovis junior strong safety Devin Sweet said. “Maybe even the country.
“They just lined up and ran over us.”
The game marked the end of prep careers for 22 Clovis seniors, including running back Phillip Williams, who was held to 22 yards on 16 carries.
“I’m going to miss this,” said a subdued Williams, who was waiting to help an injured teammate off the field. “I’m going to miss the field and all the players. I’ll never forget them.”
Williams finished the year with more than 1,850 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Gutierrez said despite the championship-game loss, the Wildcats had a good season, especially after starting the year 1-3.
“A lot of people didn’t think we could make it this far,” Gutierrez said. “We proved a lot of people wrong.”
La Cueva 40, Clovis 0
La Cueva 0 21 13 6 — 40
Clovis 0 0 0 0 — 0
LC — Aaron Lewis recovers blocked punt in end zone (kick failed), 11:54
LC — Zach Arnett 7-yard run (Tyler Davis to Seth Johnson), 9:04
LC — Arnett 64-yard run (Phillip Hobart kick), 7:01
LC — Johnson 18-yard pass from Davis (Hobart kick), 7:01
LC — Frankie Baca 16-yard run (kick failed), 1:56
LC — Baca 2-yard run (kick blocked), 7:24
First downs 16 2
Rushes-yards 51-321 22-0
Passing yards 65 13
Totals yards 386 13
Com-att-int 4-5-0 2-8-0
Penalties-yards 7-55 4-20
Punts-avg. 2-37 8-31.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
RUSHING — La Cueva, Frankie Baca 18-113, Zach Arnett 16-144, Seth Johnson 6-37, Tyler Davis 4-14, Clint McPeek 1-6, Jonathan Woodward 1-minus 2, Tyler Cormier 1-4, Ryan Novak 1-3, Ryan Hightower 1-2. Clovis, Phillip Williams 16-22, Terrance Walker 1-4, John Props 5-minus 26.
PASSING — La Cueva, Davis 4-5-65-0. Clovis, Props 2-8-13-0.
RECEIVING — La Cueva, Greyson Wieczorek 1-23, Johnson 2-29, Joe Gherardi 1-13. Clovis, Walker 1-10, Williams 1-3.