Clarendon Bronco football makes history.
The 2017 season for the Bronco football team was, to say the least, a surprise. Most people expected only one or two playoff games before the end of the season. But this football team surpassed expectations by going four rounds into the playoffs and making it to the state quarterfinals. For the first time since 1972, the Broncos played in December.
But the team’s success came as no surprise to one player. Senior offensive and defensive tackle Justin Christopher knew his team had the ability to go far.
“I [knew we could]. 100%. I just had faith in my team,” Justin emphatically stated. “No one else gave us a chance, but I knew what we had.”
Clarendon advanced through the year racking up win after win in preseason and in district until the last regular season game against Wellington. With another loss against Wellington in the post-season, they ended the year with 14 wins and 2 losses overall and 4-1 in district. For a team that started with mediocre expectations, a new coach with unknown qualities, and the loss of several seniors from the year before, the Broncos had an outstanding year.
Preparation started in August with the introduction of head coach Clint Conkin. With sixteen years of coaching experience, Conkin spent ten years in Littlefield and one year in Memphis before coming to Clarendon for his first job as athletic director. He began by introducing new plays to the boys.
“At the beginning of the year, as a team, we were kind of rough with all the new plays,” senior wide receiver and cornerback Colt Wood explained.
But as win after win was recorded in the preseason games, confidence grew among the players.
“At some times, some games, I thought this is going to be a little rough,” senior running back Damarjae Cortez stated. “As we got going I knew that we could go somewhere.”
The first turning point for the season came during the Wheeler game. At halftime, the Broncos were trailing but came back to win 15-12 in the second half. This was when defensive coordinator Johnny Nino, who has been with Clarendon fourteen years, began to see the difference with this team.
“We got into halftime and made some adjustments,” Nino said. “The kids had to make a decision, are we going to go out and get the job done, or are we not going to get the job done. They went out and got the job done. I think that was one of the early games where I thought things are a little bit different.”
The next game was against Gruver before the homecoming crowd and was slated to be a loss for the Broncos by popular opinion. Clarendon proved the experts wrong with a decisive win over Gruver 32-14.
Another challenge came early in district play against Crosbyton which had a good tailback that would be hard to defend against. Again, the Broncos surprised everyone by easily winning 41-0 and maintaining their winning season.
One more game and one more win against Ralls, and the Broncos were facing the two toughest teams in district, Memphis and Wellington. Memphis had stopped the Broncos in their tracks last year, and Wellington was making a serious push to the state playoff game.
First up was Memphis. In 2016 the Broncos came into the Memphis game with 8 wins and no losses. After losing to the Cyclones that year, Clarendon was never able to regain their momentum. This year, the boys were determined to win a game that became an emotional roller coaster.
“Memphis brought a lot of fans,” senior tight end and defensive linebacker Andy Davis explained. “If they made a good play, you could hear them cheer. If we made a good play, our fans would cheer. It was just back and forth the whole night.
The Broncos started the game strong, but began making mistakes in the middle of the game. They were able to rally, though, to beat Memphis 22-8. That win became the pivotal turning point for the season according to the players.
“Last year we were 8-0 and this year we were 8-0. But last year Memphis basically derailed the whole season. They were the start of the downfall,” Justin Christopher stated. “But this year we beat them and that just gave us new life in my opinion.”
With another win under their belt, it was time to face state ranked Wellington. But this game did not end well. Even though the Broncos were not playing at full strength due to injuries of key players, they also did not perform.
“We just didn’t execute, we didn’t play our best,” Andy Davis recalled. “We had some guys injured. It was every wrong thing happened in that game that could go wrong.”
Clarendon lost the game 0-49 and racked up their first loss. But the Broncos still secured second place in district and were on their way to the playoffs.
Post-season play led to history for this year’s Bronco team. For the first time since 1972, Clarendon would advance to the state quarterfinal game.
The first game in the playoffs was against Vega. The Broncos fell behind with three turnovers in the first half. The Broncos fought back and went on to win the game 36-14 due to the determination of the defense.
Next came Bovina and again the offense started making turnovers and it looked like the Broncos would lose.
“It was awful,” Coach Conkin recalled. “We had seven turnovers that game. If you have seven turnovers, no matter who you’re playing, you’re supposed to lose, especially in a playoff game. At halftime, we went in and we were down 20-6, and I told them Bovina hasn’t stopped us once. We’ve stopped ourselves. We’ve fumbled the ball, we’ve thrown interceptions. If we just hang onto the ball, we’re going to score. They came out the second half and did it. We held onto it and drove down and scored. We got up and won 26-20. That was huge for our confidence, too. Our kids knew after that if we don’t stop ourselves, we’re going to be fine.”
The athletes also agreed with the lesson learned in the Bovina game.
“We were down 20-6 going into halftime. At halftime, we went in to fix our mistakes, then we came out and fixed them. It brought us back into the game,” Damarjae Cortez stated. “Mistakes like blocking the wrong guy, hitting the right person, hitting the right hole. We came out and fixed it and got the W.”
But the players and coaches on the field were not the only ones to contribute to the win.
“The most memorable time I heard the crowd, was at the Bovina game,” Justin Christopher said. “We just came back, we were winning by six points. There was a minute left and they were trying to score to win the game. Our fans were so loud, they couldn’t hear their quarterback, so they kept getting false starts because they weren’t going when the quarterback said hut. So, the crowd just deafened the entire line and they kept getting penalties because they couldn’t hear the quarterback.”
The Broncos moved on to the regional game against Hamlin, a young team with good talent. Coach Conkin’s strategy was to take advantage of their youth, keep pressure on them, and not make mistakes. The strategy worked in the first half, but in the third quarter Hamlin came back and took the lead. The Broncos rallied immediately and kept the lead for the rest of the game, a 30-19 win.
Then came the state quarterfinals game where Clarendon would face their district nemesis, Wellington, again. Even though the Broncos lost the game 0-33, they fought hard the entire game according to defensive coach Johnny Nino.
“I don’t think people realized this but Wellington got beat by Childress their first game. After that, by halftime of nearly all their games, that game was over. They’d go and sip Gator Ade and enjoy halftime. The second time we played them halftime was 13-0. It was still a ball game.”
This sentiment was shared by Coach Conkin.
“Our kids just kept fighting. We dropped probably three touchdown passes in the first half. We could have either been tied or up the score at halftime and that would have been huge. We just barely missed them. Our kids fought hard.”
The end of an unexpected and historical season, while a disappointment, left everyone, coaches, players, and a community excited and pleased with the results. The Broncos had proven to be a team with uncommon determination and worthy of pride.
“They never quit, they never got down, they just kept trying to find ways to win,” Conkin summarized.