Admittedly I am not an Almond Bowl history aficionado. There are dozens, probably even hundreds of more people who are more qualified to pontificate on the stellar performances seen in the 50+plus years of Chico and Pleasant Valley football match-ups, but I am sure they would be hard-pressed to find a much better showing than what we witnessed from Chico High’s junior quarterback Clayton Welch.
Welch led the Panthers to touchdowns on an amazing 7 straight drives. Some of them pedestrian, some of them absolutely jaw-dropping. Two one-yard touchdown plunges were punctuated with a couple of extra-ordinary scampers that saw Welch dodging tacklers like he was trying to avoid trip-wires in a mine-field. His two long-runs of 32 and 47 yards left many in the press box with mouths agape. It wasn’t just his ability to run and the superior athleticism, but it was Welch’s penchant for making defenders miss, that was just as impressive.
Welch’s exploits with his legs would have been enough, but he also displayed his cannon arm. On occasion he would disguise run and would float tear-drop floaters into the waiting arms of a receiver. On one nullified touchdown pass in the first quarter, Welch chucked the ball 40 yards downfield all while not squared up and ONLY using his arm. There were no legs in the throw. It was a perfect throw that would have gone for a touchdown if not for a holding penalty.
In my brief history of covering the Almond Bowl, the only individual performance that ranks with Welch’s is Pleasant Valley’s win over Chico in 2006. In that game, senior Taylor Clements had a night to remember. Clements had three touchdowns and two interceptions and was without a doubt the best player on the field as PV upset the heavily favored Panthers.
With all of this said, as sports fans and media types we should temper our enthusiasm for Clayton Welch is only a junior in high school. We certainly don’t want to feed the beast and have the head spin-out-of-control in what the kid can do. But, his size, athleticism, speed and most importantly, smarts has me excited to watch how his future unfolds.