Monthly archive

August 2021

BACK TO THE FUTURE?

in Football

Feeling like deja vu all over again, Heart of Texas six-man football opens with several cancellations; Walnut Springs posts impressive win over Three Way

Just when we all expected a return to normalcy this fall, it felt like deja vu all over again as the 2021 Texas high school football season began when two of the five slated Bosque County six-man games were cancelled due to Covid protocols last week.

But for those fortunate enough to open the season under the Friday night lights, it proved to be some exciting six-man football on the gridiron regardless of the outcome.

After advancing to the 2020 Class 1A, Division I state championship game in defense of their 2019 state title. the seventh-ranked Blum Bobcats with a solid 42-28 victory over the up-and-coming Aquilla Cougars. In other Class 1A, DI action, the sixth-ranked Jonesboro Eagles soared past Coolidge, 67-26, while the ninth-ranked Abbott Panthers slashed the Avalon Eagles, 52-6.

In Class 1A, Division II season openers, the third-ranked Strawn Greyhounds began their quest to return to the state championship game after falling short in 2020 by racing past White Deer, 50-8, at Jayton, the 17th-ranked Oglesby Tigers mauled Ranger, 52-32, and the Sidney Eagles slipped by Zephyr, 21-18, in an unusually low-scoring six-man defensive battle.

WALNUT SPRINGS 65, THREE WAY 35

WALNUT SPRINGS — Sophomore Diego Muniz ran for four touchdowns and produced two more scores on defense to lead the Walnut Springs Hornets to an impressive 65-35 home victory over the Three Way Indians last Friday night.

With senior Corey Hargrove leaving the game with cramps on the Hornets’ first possession of the game, Diego Muniz took over by rushing for 224 yards. Anthony Muniz filled in admirably for Hargrove, running for 110 yards and three scores.

“It’s great to be in a situation where everyone has an opportunity to play,” Walnut Springs football head coach Lonnie Flippen said. “We have a great deal to work on, including some more conditioning. But these guys have a desire to win, and they know what we need to do to get better. I couldn’t be prouder of their effort.”

After building a 41-28 lead before intermission, the Hornets (1-0) stung Three Way for 24 unanswered points in the second to put the game away. Freshman Jesse Lamb scored on the second rushing attempt of his high school career, while center Pablo Gonzales led Walnut Springs with five receptions for 72 yards.

“I was proud of our young kids that came in and played key roles on several occasions,” Flippen said. “I can’t say enough about sophomore Adrian Chavez in his first start at quarterback. He limited his mistakes and did a great job lead blocking on our sweeps.”

Defensively, Anthony Muniz led the Hornets with 15 tackles, followed by sophomore Brenden Shuemake and freshman Josue Ontiveros with eight takedowns each. Diego Muniz returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown and scored again on a three-yard fumble recovery, while Schemake grabbed an interception at the one-yard line to stop a Three Way scoring threat.

EVANT 68, CRANFILLS GAP 49

EVANT — Despite producing almost 500 yards of total offense, the young Cranfills Gap Lions could not slow down the Class 1A, Division I Evant attack as the Elks stampeded to a 68-49 victory last Thurday night.

Senior Cruz Flores scored four touchdowns and threw for another while junior Aiden Doty tossed three touchdown passes to lead the Lions (0-1) in the losing effort. Flores rushed for 206 yards and caught six passes for 106 yards, while Doty completed 11 of 19 passes for 171 yards. Sophomore Adan Flores hauled in two passes for 55 yards and a score, while junior Case Koehler pulled down three passes for 57.

“I felt we did a lot of good things on offense,” Cranfills Gap football head coach Adam Carroll said. “But we shot ourselves in the foot the second quarter and got behind. We have to do a better job of tackling if we want to win a lot of games this year.”

Trailing 40-21 at the half, Cranfills Gap rallied in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough to surpass Evant as the Lions struggled to run down the Elks in the open field.

Defensively, sophomore Blake Allen led the Lions with eight tackles and a fumble recovery, followed by junior Haydn Kirby with seven takedowns and an interception, Doty with six tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery, as well as freshman Juan Berumen with six tackles.

COVINGTON 45, IREDELL 0

COVINGTON — Finally back on the football field after spending the better part of the last two season sidelined, the young Iredell Dragons proved no match for Class 1A, DI Covington as the Owls soared to an overwhelming 45-0 victory last Friday night.

“Definitely a tough way to start the season, but we were up against a tough team,” Iredell football head coach Luis Guereca said. “We couldn’t get the ball rolling the right way starting off the game. Then, we got hit with an injury to a key player.”

After winning three consecutive district titles and making back-to-back trips to the Class 1A, Division II, Region IV finals in 2017 and 2018, the Iredell Dragons were derailed by a slew of injuries in 2019, and then bit by the Covid pandemic and injury bugs last season.

In 2021, the Dragons field a young squad with only five returning lettermen with limited experience. Despite 13 players on the roster, Iredell do not have a single senior.

“The lack of experience really showed up,” Guereca said. “In the end it was a learning process for our team. We’ll just have to keep getting better and be patient for the injured to heal up.”

MORGAN at PENELOPE CANCELLED

After winning the District 12-1A, Division II title in 2020, the 20th-ranked Morgan Eagles were forced to put their plans to defend on hold due to Covid protocols shutting down the school two weeks ago, leading to the cancellation of their season opener at Penelope last Friday night.

But barring any setbacks, Morgan hopes to open their 2021 quest to return to the Class 1A, DII playoffs when the Eagles host Oglesby Friday at 6:30 p.m.

“We should be good to play against Oglesby this week,” Morgan football head coach Edward Aviles said. “I was hoping we could have played our game against Penelope, but that wasn’t the case. Covid really affected us last year, and it affected our momentum going into playoffs for football and basketball. We just tried to pick up where we left off and tried to do the best we could.

“Like always, we adjust to the situations and do the best we can and reach our goals by getting better every week. As for getting in the first game, it should be exciting, and we are looking forward to it.”

KOPPERL at ROCHELLE JV CANCELLED

Coming off an injury-shorten season in 2019, the Kopperl Eagles decided a shortage of numbers and the Covid pandemic warranted shutting down the football program last season.

Now returning to the gridiron with a new head coach starting from scratch, the Eagles were forced to cancel their season opener on the road facing the Rochelle JV last Thursday due to Covid concerns. Kopperl hopes to begin the 2021 campaign in Waco at 6:30 p.m. Thursday against the Methodist Children’s Home JV.

“We were following the school’s Covid policy this week and made the decision to not play,” Kopperl’s first year head coach Aaron Maxwell said. “The guys are chomping at the bit to get going and are fired up for next week’s game

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

BUILDING MOMENTUM

in Volleyball

Wrapping up tournament time in the tough San Marcos event, Class 3A Clifton Lady Cubs continue preparation for District 17-3A play

Producing a mixed bag of results while playing seven matches last week, the Clifton Lady Cub volleyball squad continues to gain experience and build momentum as they navigate through the pre-season schedule in preparation for the tough District 17-13A race that lies ahead.

With only two non-district matches remaining, Clifton (12-9) lost their match scheduled for Tuesday as Class 4A Waco Connally cancelled due to Covid concerns. The Lady Cubs get their final district dress rehearsal when they hit the road to take on Class 4A Hillsboro Friday at 4:30 p.m.

Opening the slate of matches with Senior Night last Tuesday, the Lady Cubs swept the Comanche Maidens in three straight sets, 25-13, 25-13, 25-14, at the Clifton High School Gymnasium.

“It was a great win,” Clifton volleyball head coach Paige Poth said. “It was our first home game and our girls came out strong from the beginning. We played hard every single point. Our offense was quick as well as our defense. We kept our errors minimal and bounced back quickly from any error made.”

But when signing the Lady Cubs up to play in the San Marcos Ragin’ Rattler Tournament Aug. 26-28, Poth knew her team would be challenged by Class 6A teams and more.

“We played up against some great teams from all classifications,” Clifton volleyball head coach Paige Poth said. “We made some big plays against those teams, and took away many lessons that will move over to the practice court.”

After opening the tournament by losing four straight matches to Class 4A Corpus Christi Calallen, 25-23, 25-20, Class 5A Pflugerville Hendrickson, 25-17, 25-14, Class 6A Austin Bowie, and Class 6A San Angelo Central, the Lady Cubs rebounded to win their last two matches against Class 5A Manor and Class 5A Bastrop Cedar Creek, 17-25, 25-23, 25-7, to take third place in the Copper Bracket.

“It was a big turning point for our offense and a great tournament for the girls to learn to move through adversity and bounce back. I would say that resiliency is one of our strengths, and it was noticed in the tournament this weekend.”

Coming off a dominating road victory over the Rio Vista Lady Eagles Aug. 17, the Lady Cubs struggled in the highly-competitive Glen Rose Tournament Aug. 20-21. After dropping three matches to Grandview, Wimberley and Sanger, Clifton rebounded to beat Carter Riverside and Tolar before falling to Class 5A Cleburne in the Bronze Bracket Championship Game.

“We played great teams, and we saw opponents that were similar to teams in our district,” Poth said. “We are working on competing at all times on the court, and this weekend in San Marcos, we are going to see great teams again. The girls are doing a really great job working together and competing against really good teams around the state.”

Before hosting the Clifton Tournament Aug. 12 & 14, the Lady Cubs opened the season with a road trip to Hico Aug. 10 and rolled to an impressive three set sweep, 25-8, 25-21, 25-15. Senior Ava Anderson led Clifton with 14 kills followed by junior Carley Caniford with 11, while junior Camryn Caniford contributed five service aces and two blocks, senior Kamryn Zint provided four aces and 10 digs, and sophomore Sidney Fullerton delivered 30 assists.

“Right from the start, we just did everything right,” Poth said. “We never gave up too many points in one rotation, which has been our goal from day one. Our offensive game was strong as well. Our setter did a really good job running the offense, and our hitters did a great job putting down the balls and scoring. “Defensively, the passers did an amazing job running down balls and getting them right to the setter so we could run our offense. Great way to start the season.”

Carrying that momentum into the Clifton Tournament, the Lady Cubs posted three straight victories in pool play Aug. 12, dominating Hillsboro, 25-20, 25-11; Hico, 25-16, 25-14; and Comanche, 25-8, 25-8.

On Saturday, the Lady Cubs extended their streak of winning 13 straight sets by knocking off Tolar, 25-13, 27-25, in the opening round of the championship bracket before eliminating Waco LaVega, 25-15, 25-16, advancing to the title game.

But North Central Texas Academy proved to be too much to handle in the championship game, 2-1, as Clifton settled for second place.

“I was very proud and excited for the teams we played, and also for us playing the way we did,” Poth said. “The all-around heart and hustle that was displayed at that tournament was incredible. We faced tough opponents and players, and I think that is exactly what is getting us ready for district play.”

Bouncing back from the hard-fought loss the tournament championship game, the Lady Cubs responded with a straight set victory over Rio Vista, 3-0, last Tuesday.

“We played great against Rio Vista,” Poth said. “We came out strong and kept the momentum throughout the entire game.

“Resiliency was a major positive take away from our tournament. There were a couple times we were in eight to nine-point deficits, and we just found a way to catch up and come back. It was amazing. I saw so much fight in our girls this weekend and so much competitiveness.

“A big part of our success was our momentum and energy the entire team brought. On the court, we were loud, on the sidelines, we were loud. It was fun to watch and be a part of. Overall, the entire team made our tournament a successful. I was so proud of every single one of them.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SPORTS BUZZ GAME OF THE WEEK

in Football

WEEK 1: In a defense struggle, Class 2A, DI’s 19th-ranked Bosqueville Bulldogs hold off late rally to edge Class 3A, DII Clifton Cubs, 14-6

CLIFTON — When it was all said and done,the Clifton Cubs got exactly what they asked for in the 2021 Texas high school season opener. After all, playing playoff-caliber teams like Class 2A, DI’s Bosqueville Bulldogs in a non-district matchup has always been Clifton’s approach to getting ready for district under the direction of veteran head coach Chuck Caniford.

Despite trailing 14-0 through three quarters, Clifton rallied in the fourth quarter and put themselves ina position to win the game before falling short against Bosqueville, 14-6, last Friday night at Cub Stadium.

“Despite the end result, we were better this week than we were last week,” Caniford said. “And that’s what we are looking for in non-district, continued improvement. We put ourselves in a position to win, but made too many unforced errors to earn the victory.”

Getting on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter, Bosqueville (1-0) quarterback Justin Moore connected with Newt Schornack for a big gain down the right sideline to set up Jayce Powers’ five-yard touchdown run two plays later.

Then with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Moore gave the Bulldogs what seemed like a commanding 14-0 lead when he cut up field for a 45-yard scoring run.

In what turned out to be a low-scoring defensive struggle, and the Cub defense definitely proved worthy of that challenge. Sophomore Riley Finney led Clifton with 10 tackles, followed by senior Robert Goodman with five tackles and an interception. Senior Chris Mayes and sophomore Parker Tunnell contributed four takedowns each, sophomore Andres Devora hauled in an interception and junior Peyton Urbanovsky came up with a fumble.

“I thought we played really well defensively,” Caniford said. “There was a significant improvement from the week before. We were able to create some turnovers and did a pretty good job of minimizing their big plays.”

Despite struggling to sustain drives that resulted in points, the Cubs (0-1) responded with a fourth quarter score that left the outcome in question until Clifton’s final possession. On one of only a handful big gains for the Cubs, Finney turned the corner and outraced a host of Bulldogs down the sideline for a 35-yard touchdown run with 9:43 left to make it a one-score game. Finney finished with 107 yards rushing on 14 carries.

“We made too many unforced errors that were drive killers; fumbled snaps, critical penalties,” Caniford said. “We also had some big play opportunities that we missed on that may have changed the dynamic of the game.

“That said, I was really pleased with how hard our guys played, and we have seen a significant improvement between the first scrimmage and this week. We just have to find a way to cut down on the unforced errors in order to keep the chains moving. We can’t work behind the chains.”

Playing to win at home in the season opener, Caniford decided to go for the two-point conversion following Clifton’s lone score.

“We had every intention of going for the win instead of playing for a tie,” Caniford said. “Down two scores, we knew before we started that drive that if we scored, we would go for two. If we got it, then we could kick the PAT on the second score to take the lead. And if we didn’t get it, we could go for two and the tie on the second score. 

“We had a play we were really confident in, and we actually got the look we expected. We have to convert on those opportunities.”

With two more opportunities to pull out the victory, the Cubs failed to complete the comeback, turning the ball over on a fumble before being held on downs in the final five minutes of the game.

Despite a disappointing loss in a winnable game against a quality opponent, Caniford felt good about the performance he saw from his team. Hitting the road this week, Clifton will take on another playoff-caliber squad in the Little-River Academy Bumblebees, who posted an impressive 38-28 victory over Rogers. In 2020, the Cubs lost to Little-River Academy, 17-10, at home.

“After watching the film, I am really excited about the direction of this team,” Caniford said. “As long as we trust the process and understand that there is a reason we are playing so many quality opponents in non-district, we will be where we want to be when district begins at the end of the month.

“You don’t get trophies for a non-district record, you get them for winning district championships. And these games are going to help us achieve those goals.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

GRIDIRON SCOREBOARD: WEEK 1

in Schedule/Scores/Stats

Final high school football scores for Class 3A, 2A & 1A from across the Heart of Texas region

FINAL UPDATE: 10:45 P.M., Saturday, August 28, 2021

Here are the final Class 3A, 2A and 1A Texas high school football scores from around the Heart of Texas region with late games still pending.

Be sure to check back with THE SPORTS BUZZ for up-to-the-minute updates throughout the weekend for scores from the 2021 Texas high school football postseason.

On location for the Game of the Week in Clifton this week, THE SPORTS BUZZ provides award-winning coverage of the 2021 Texas high school football season every week, focusing on Class 3A, 2A and 1A schools in the 10-county Heart of Texas region — which includes Bosque, Comanche, Coryell, Erath, Hamilton, Hill, Hood, Johnson, McLennan and Somervell counties.

Be sure to check in with THE SPORTS BUZZ every Friday night for the complete scoreboard from games across the Heart of Texas region.

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

GRIDIRON MATCHUPS: WEEK 1

in Schedule/Scores/Stats

Whether watching online streaming or being in-person under the Friday night lights, check out the complete schedule for Heart of Texas teams

Thanks to the University Interscholastic League’s decision to continue waiving the live broadcast blackout of Texas high school football games this season after doing so in 2020 due to attendance restrictions related to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, there are multiple ways to watch games once again this season.

But then again, there’s nothing quite like Texas high school football under the Friday night lights. On opening night, THE SPORTS BUZZ Game of the Week will feature the Class 3A, Division II Clifton Cubs hosting the Class 2A, Division I’s 19th-ranked Bosqueville Bulldogs Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Cub Stadium.

Here’s the complete Class 3A, 2A & 1A schedule for teams in the Heart of Texas region on Week 1 of the 2021 Texas high school football season. Be sure to check back for up-to-the-minute scores throughout Friday night.

Once again this season, THE SPORTS BUZZ will provide award-winning coverage of the 2021 Texas high school football season, focusing on Class 3A, 2A and 1A schools in the 10-county Heart of Texas region — which includes Bosque, Comanche, Coryell, Erath, Hamilton, Hill, Hood, Johnson, McLennan and Somervell counties.

Be sure to check in with THE SPORTS BUZZ every Thursday to find the complete schedule for teams from the Heart of Texas region.

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

GRIDIRON GURUS: Week 1

in Predictions

PUTTING IT ON THE LINE: Picking Heart of Texas high school football games this week with NCAA college football games in Texas, as well as the Cowboys & the Texans coming soon

Following an unprecedented 2020 football season that extended throughout the Spring of 2021, THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel returns this week for a traditional football season, opening with a slate of 15 high school football games across the Heart of Texas region. Next week, we will begin making picks from a selection of Texas college football games before adding the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans in two weeks.

Joining THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel this season will be Toney Rogers, a local business owner in the Heart of Texas, while Don Nicholas, Field Representative for U.S. Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25), Meridian Yellowjacket football head coach Wade Morton and The Sports Buzz’ Brett Voss return from last year.

Rogers, owner of Armadillo Prints, NeTex Entertainment Agency as well as T-3 Business Consulting & Marketing, has served as an announcer for various high school to professional sporting events for several years, such as being the Voice of Crawford Lady Pirate Softball and announcing for UBU Bodybuilding Expos, while serving as Marketing Director for the Waco Tornado indoor football team and Marketing Director for North Texas Falcons Pro Football Team.

In addition to being involved in the entertainment industry for more than 40 years as a professional musician and a booking agent, Rogers has also been involved in several community organizations such as Clifton Park Board President, Legacy Park Board, Entertainment Director for Fallfest, CISD Advisory Board and a member of Lions Club.

Entering his second season on the THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick’ems panel, Nicholas grew up in North Dakota  in the north central part of the state about 20 miles from the Canadian border, attended high school in a small town of about 175 people, played football, ran track and was very active in FFA before graduating in a class of 14.

With bachelors degree in Ag Econ and Communications from North Dakota State and a MBA in Human Resources from the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND, Nicholas joined the U.S. Army National Guard in 1971 and was activated to the Army in 1978, where he served through 2003. After working as a government contractor, Nicholas worked as the district director for Texas State Rep. Ralph Sheffield from Temple before being hired by Congressman Williams in 2014.

Last but certainly not least, Nicholas love hunting, other outdoor activities, rodeo and North Dakota State football.

Join us every Thursday throughout the 2021 football season as THE SPORTS BUZZ Gridiron Gurus pick their winners for a select group of the week’s high school games, your favorite college teams from the NCAA Div. I, Div. II and Div. III, as well as the state’s two NFL teams, the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans.

Be sure to make your picks as well!

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SETTING STANDARD FOR SUCCESS

in Football

After staying home for the first time in seven seasons, Class 3A, DII Clifton Cubs strive to return to postseason after rare absence in 2020

CLIFTON – By missing the Class 3A, Division II playoffs in 2020, the Clifton Cubs watched their season come to an early and abrupt end for the first time in the last seven seasons. But Clifton athletic director and football head coach Chuck Caniford believes the Cubs enter the 2021 campaign primed to return to the postseason coming out of the tough District 13-3A, DII.

“We feel good about the team we have coming into the fall,” Caniford said. “Playoff appearances are earned in the fall, not in the media over the summer. We understand that we have a lot of work to do and that we play in the toughest 3A district in the state.

“The results of last season are unacceptable and do not meet our standards. Our kids have worked hard in the off-season and this summer to make sure that this fall is much different.”

With 18 returning lettermen that includes seven offensive and seven defensive starters, the Cubs will be equiped to take on the wealth of talent in District 13-3A, DII. Clifton begins its quest for success by playing host to the Class 2A, Division I’s 19th-ranked Bosqueville Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cub Stadium.

In 2020, Clifton stayed home for the postseason and watched as all four playoff qualifiers from the district – Franklin, Buffalo, Rogers and Lexington – advanced to Region IV seminfinals. After losing in the 2020 state championship game, Franklin enters the season as the state’s top-ranked team.

So make not mistake, the Cubs will not have to wait until the playoffs to face the best the state has to offer.

“We have gotten a really good start on our install last spring and throughout the summer,” Caniford said. “What we are looking for in camp is execution. We have to identify the guys that can contribute to success on Friday night and get them in the best position to be able to help us achieve our goals.”

Despite a strong group of offensive skill position players returning from last season with senior running back Alex DeLaHoya, senior tight end Griffin Phillips, junior running back Larrett Thomas and sophomore quarterback Riley Finney, the Cubs continue to look for the right combination of offensive linemen to control the trenches, creating running room and time to throw the ball.

On the offensive line, senior center Logan Weir returns as the anchor, along with senior Sergio Garcia as well as juniors Caden Page and Jackson Newton.

“We are still learning some of the adjustments that we have made on offense and that showed at times,” said Caniford after the first scrimmage against both Blooming Grove and Italy. “We have to eliminate the mental errors and take care of the football better. We have to play faster as well. We are thinking way too much right now and it needs to be automatic. Unfortunately, the only way for it to become automatic is more reps, and that will take some time.”

Defensively, the Cubs have looked solid early with Caniford calling the defensive line  –  manned by returning starters DeLaHoya along with juniors Weston Urbanovsky and  Makail Brandenberger – one of the team’s strengths.

Other returning defensive starters include seniors Doniven King and JP Gardner with junior Larrett Thomas in the defensive backfield, as well as senior Will Simmons and Phillips as linebackers.

Caniford and his coaching staff will rely on a group of returning lettermen and a host of key newcomers to fill the open spots on the depth chart.

Returning lettermen include junior wide receiver-defensive back Carter Tunnell, junior wide receiver AJ Lingo, senior offensive lineman Freeman Hamilton and senior tight end Zach Hohertz, as well as senior quarterback-defensive back Robert Goodman, a move-in from Midway.

Key newcomers will be junior Peyten Urbanovsky, junior Kenneth Reierson, senior Carlos Villareal, sophomore Jorge Devora and sophomore Parker Tunnell.

But even as the season begins, the Cubs will remain a work-in-progress leading up to district competition with one goal to focus on each week.

“Simple, be better than we were last week,” Caniford said. “That’s really our total focus in the scrimmages and non-district schedule. If we can continue to improve each week, then we will be ready for the district schedule. And that’s where all of our goals will be achieved.”

With every new Texas high school football season comes new beginnings. August brings regenerated possibilities and boundless enthusiasm for the challenges that lie ahead. And after navigating Covid delays and protocols last season, it feels like life is finally getting back to normal.

“It definitely feels a lot closer to normal than it did this time last year,” Caniford said. “There is still a bit of uncertainty with all the talk in the media right now regarding the resurgence of the virus. But for now, we are optimistic that this will be a much more “normal” fall.”

And for the Clifton Cubs, returning to “normal” will mean making a trip to the playoffs.

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by TERRI HUFFMAN-FINNEY & courtesy of White’s Photography©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ONE STEP AT A TIME

in Football

Showing steady improvement over two seasons, the Class 2A, DII Meridian Yellowjackets seeking rise to the next level in third campaign under Morton

MERIDIAN – Make no mistake about it, the Meridian Yellowjackets have taken strides in the right direction while growing up on the gridiron over the last two seasons. And as they prepare to open the 2021 Texas high school football season, the Jackets plan to take it to the next level.

“Our expectations are playoffs,” said Meridian football head coach Wade Morton entering his third season leading the Jackets. “There is no other expectation but our own, and that’s what we’ll concentrate on. We have to do a great job of being mentally prepared and becoming better students of the game, and the schemes we need to perfect.”

The Jackets will open the season by hosting the Kerens Bobcats, picked to place second in the tough District 8-2A, DI behind 20th-ranked Italy, Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Jacket Stadium. Despite the experience of 15 returning lettermen that includes nine offensive and eight defensive starters, Meridian remains young with only two seniors on the roster. But in what the Jackets will be lacking in senior leadership and experience, Morton hopes to make up for it with overall team depth.

“We’re going to be versatile,” Morton said. “We have depth and the ability to multiple on offense and vanilla on defense.”

With the offensive skill positions capably manned with returning starters, junior John Bernal makes the move to receiver as sophomore Brayden Wehmeyer takes over at quarterback, while junior Brady Taylor returns at running back along with junior tight end Dustan Bowers, while Alejandro Rodriguez takes over at wide receiver.

In the trenches, the Jacket offensive line will be anchored by two returning starters  –  senior Paul Rivera (6-0, 260) and junior Carl Willams (6-3, 230), along with prospect Noah Alvizo.

As Meridian returns to battle in District 8-2A, Division II, the defending champion Albany Lions enter the 2021 season as the fifth-ranked team in the state followed by the 23rd-ranked Santo Wildcats.

After rolling through district undefeated in 2020, Albany advanced to the Region II semifinals while the district’s other three playoff qualifers took early exits with bi-district losses. The Jackets hope to compete with the 2020 district runnerup Cross Plains Buffaloes and the Hico Tigers for a 2021 playoff berth.

Sometimes, the best way to find out exactly where you stand can be by lining up against the best. And that’s exactly what Morton did by taking on the 2020 Class 2A, DI state semifinalist Crawford Pirates in Meridian’s first scrimmage.

“We were able to move the ball, and we were very pleased with the players effort,” Meridian football head coach Wade Morton said. “We were pleased with the players’ effort and sense of urgency.”

Consequently, the Jackets found that out from the first snap. Going into Morton’s third season at the helm in Meridian, the Jackets remain a work-in-progress while showing steady improvement over the last two years.

Fielding a young, but experienced squad, Meridian’s effort against the Pirates reflected exactly that, improving as the scrimmage went along.

“It’s great to be able to have two scrimmages again,” said Morton after being limited to only one scrimmage before the 2020 season due to Covid protocols. “We’re looking forward to some drastic improvement before the season begins.”

Although Meridian has not qualified for the postseason since 2017, the Jackets have a rich Texas high school football tradition dating back to 1916 – four seasons before the University Interscholastic League even existed.

While posting an impressive all-time 536-392-36 win-loss-tie record for a .560 winning percentage, the Jackets have qualified for the postseason 26 times and won 16 district titles.

With the slogan “Restore the Swarm,” Morton returned to his Bosque County roots to take his first head coaching job at Meridian in 2019 with the plan to rebuild the tradition-rich Yellowjacket football program from the ground up.

“We knew everything was going to be a challenge,” said Morton, who graduated from Clifton High School in 1995 before attending Tarleton State University and graduating in 2000.  “We have to be consistent all the way from the top and let it trickle from there.  We as coaches have to hold ourselves accountable and practice what we always preach — be where your feet are.”

After learning real-time lessons in scrimmages against Crawford and Italy, the Jackets will turn their attention to their season opener Aug. 27 when Meridian hosts the Kerens Bobcats on Parent Night at Jacket Stadium.

“It’s great to just have kids back in general,” Morton said. “It’s as normal as it’s going to get and kids are excited about going to the next level.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by ASHLEY BARNER & courtesy of Bosque County Publishing

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

SOARING FOR A REPEAT

in Football

Already running into a road block, the Class 1A, DII’s 20th-ranked Morgan Eagles hope to post back-to-back district titles

MORGAN – Before they could play their second scrimmage of the 2021 Texas high school football season, the Morgan Eagles found themselves headed home due to a school district-wide Covid-related shutdown. And after claiming the first-ever mythical Bosque County Six-Man Football championship, it wasn’t the way the Eagles envisioned embarking of their defense of the District 12-1A, Division II title.

“We will face this and deal with it, hoping to get back to playing football soon,” Morgan football head coach Edward Aviles said. “But right now, the safety of everyone in our community is our top concern.”

After Covid safety protocols forced Morgan to close the school, the Eagles to cancel their season opener against Penelope last Thursday. But barring any setbacks, Morgan hopes to open their 2021 quest to return to the Class 1A, DII playoffs when the Eagles host Oglesby next Friday at 6:30 p.m. With seven returning lettermen that includes five offensive and five defense starters, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine picked Morgan (8-3 overall, 4-0 in district) to repeat as district champions.

“I am looking forward to seeing our team grow and mesh from last season,” Aviles said. “All the players coming back gained a lot of experience from last season. It should be fun to watch this group use that experience to put ourselves in a position to be successful.”

After throwing for 294 yards and six touchdowns last season, senior Manuel Muniz will take over full-time quarterback duties, spreading the ball around through the air and on the ground. Morgan’s talented group of offensive weapons include senior running back Gerardo Monroy, junior running back Dathen Davenport, junior split back Kason Sims, junior running back Adrian Vera-Rico and junior wide receiver Keylan Watts.

“Experience and our players’ ability to adjust will be our greatest strength,” Aviles said. “Fixing the kicking game for extra points will be crucial and a focus for us.”

After the district faced unprecedented disruption from Covid and injuries last season, Aviles expects a hard-fought battle in 2021.

Coming off their first district championship since 1982, Cranfills Gap brought high expectations for a repeat into the 2020 season. But when the Eagles soared past the defending District 12-1A, Division II champion Cranfills Gap Lions, 52-6, in last season’s district opener, little did Aviles and his squad know that it would be the only victory needed to earn a postseason berth coming out of the all-Bosque County five-team league.

“Our district should be tougher this season,” Aviles said. “Kopperl will be young, Iredell will be young with numbers, Cranfills Gap will have two very good running backs, and Walnut Springs will bring back a young team that gained some good experience from last season. It should be fun to watch our district play out.”

But unfortunately for Kopperl, Iredell and Cranfills Gap, Covid-19 and the injury bug proved to be the most difficult obstacle to overcome in a high school football season filled with the unexpected. With the season already over for those three teams, 15th-ranked Morgan hit the road to face the young and surprising 26th-ranked Walnut Springs Hornets, and the Eagles rolled to an impressive 58-6 victory to claim the district title.

“Walnut Springs will have almost everyone from last year,” Aviles said. “They have some seniors with some young talent. But it will be a toss-up with Cranfills Gap. It will be tough with Cranfills Gap having a duo of running back that will be tough to defend.”

The last time all five Bosque County six-man schools played in the same district, none of the current head coaches were around to see it. Although the Bosque County rivals competed in the same district in 2002, the previous league also included outsiders Jonesboro and Oglesby. And make no mistake, Morgan wants to make it two in a row.

“Keeping ourselves healthy, making necessary adjustments with personnel, and making plays when we need to will be important to us having a successful season,” Aviles said. “I think our experience and players being able to move around will allow us to be the mix to make the playoffs.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

READY TO BATTLE THE BEST

in Football

After missing the playoffs in 2020, new head coach hopes to lead Class 2A, DI Valley Mills Eagles back to the promise land in tough District 7-2A, DI

VALLEY MILLS — Coming off a disappointing campaign in 2020 after making back-to-back trips to the postseason, the Valley Mills Eagles will face the challenges that lie ahead under the direction of a new head coach.

For Valley Mills’ first-year athletic director and football head coach Bob Featherston, it feels like a homecoming.

“We are a Central Texas family,” Featherston said. “This area has great football, great kids and supportive communities. I can’t think of a better place to be a high school football coach.”

Competing in the power-packed District 7-2A, Division I loaded with traditional forces to be reckoned with in the Heart of Texas region, the Eagles hope to return the playoffs after missing the postseason for the first time in three seasons in 2020.

But to do so, the Eagles must go head-to-head with the likes of the defending district champion Crawford Pirates, who enter the 2021 Texas high school football season as Class 2A, DI’s fourth-ranked team in the state.

But that’s not all. After advancing to the area playoffs last season, the 16th-ranked Tolar Rattlers have eight offensive and nine defensive starters returning, while the 2020 district runnerup and regional finalist Bosqueville Bulldogs open the season ranked 19th in the state.

“I think we have a very talented district, and it will definitely be a dog fight to get into the playoffs,” Featherston said. “With that being said, I think we have some good football players with experience and some young players with talent that will give us a good chance of making it to the postseason.

“The team to beat in district will be Crawford with its tradition of winning. But I believe we will be in the top four.”

With 15 returning lettermen that includes six offensive and four defensive starters, the cupboard will not be bare for Featherston. Despite lacking overall size, the Eagles will have good team speed starting with some talent at the offensive skill positions.

Senior Brayden Richardson returns at quarterback and will have three established receivers to chose from in seniors Cooper Ewing, Josh Garcia and Kaleb Kuligowski. The offensive line will be anchored by senior Ashton Blassingame and junior Colson Klemcke, while the Eagle defense will be led by junior defensive back Brady Whitlock.

Taking over in Valley Mills for his first head coaching job, Featherston grew up and played football in Gatesville before graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1997. With 24 years of coaching experience, Featherston began his career with stints in Huntsville and Elgin before returning home to Gatesville for a 16-year run, serving 13 seasons as the defensive coordinator.

After one season in Godley, Featherson worked as the defensive coordinator at Mount Vernon under former Baylor head coach Art Briles. During those two seasons, Mount Vernon posted a 20-6 win-loss record with back-to-back playoff appearances, losing to the Jim New Indians in the Class 3A, Division I state semifinals in 2020.

“Obviously, my biggest highlight is getting to coach with Art Briles and playing in the semifinals last year,” Featherston said. “Now, I’ve been to every round except the state championship game.

“This season has started much more smoothly without the delays and extra protocols. We still want to practice good hygiene, clean locker rooms with space, and be aware of possible situations, but it does feel more like the normal football seasons we’ve been accustomed to.”

With all that said, Featherston looks forward to the challenges that lie ahead.

“We need to keep developing strength in the weight room, have more urgency on the field and learn accountability,” Featherston said. “If we can improve in these areas, we will have a successful season.”

Be sure to pick up a copy of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS: 2021 BOSQUE COUNTRY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW published by The Clifton Record & Meridian Tribune on newsstands this week.

Photos by MELANIE SCALLION & courtesy of Blue Lily Event Productions

©2021 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Go to Top