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Aiming to return to the postseason, Class 3A, DII Clifton Cubs embark on quest with three-way scrimmage featuring Italy, Blooming Grove

CLIFTON – 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 it all starts taking shape with the first scrimmage.

Less than two weeks after taking the field for the first practice of the 2021 season, Bosque County teams lined up against opponents on the gridiron for some live action and evaluation last Thursday and Friday nights.

Interestingly, the Class 3A, Division II Clifton Cubs lined up against two different opponents in their first scrimmage as the Italy Gladiators and Blooming Grove Lions visited Cub Stadium Friday.

“It was a good first scrimmage for us to see some good competition, “Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford said. “Italy is a pre-season top 10 team and had some good size and speed. Blooming Grove played hard and had an outstanding quarterback. That’s the type of competition that we needed to see to be able to evaluate where we are at right now. 

“Overall, I was pleased with our effort. I told the kids before we took the field that we were all going to make some mistakes, but what was important was our effort and how we responded to adversity. I thought we did those things well.”

After missing the playoffs in 2020 for the first time in seven seasons under Caniford, the Cubs aim to return to the postseason coming out of the tough District 13-3A, DII. And by facing Italy and Blooming Grove in their first scrimmage, the Cubs received a taste of how they stack up against quality opponents.

As Class 2A, DI’s 20th-ranked team in the preseason polls, Italy has been picked to repeat as District 8-2A, DI champions after rolling through the league undefeated in 2020. With a wealth of returning starters, Blooming Grove plans to make back-to-back trips to the playoffs in 2021.

Despite surrendering several big play scores, the Cub defense did a solid job of containing the talented Italy offensive unit while keeping the high-powered Blooming Grove passing attack under wraps.

“I was really pleased with our tackling,” Caniford said. “That’s something that you never really know where you are at until you get into some live action, and I thought we tackled very well. 

“We still have a lot to improve on, but the positive is that the vast majority of mistakes that we made are all things that are fixable. You have concern if you are doing everything right and just getting your tail whipped, but that wasn’t the case on Friday.”

While showing flashes of promise, the Clifton offensive attack struggled to put together any sustained drives against the Gladiators and the Lions, coming up short of getting into the end zone.

“We are still learning some of the adjustments that we have made on offense and that showed at times,” Caniford said. “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.”

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.

In their final tune-up before opening the 2021 Texas high school football regular season, Clifton will hit the road to take on the Class 3A, DI Whitney Wildcats Thursday with junior varsity starting at 6 p.m., followed by varsity at 7:15 p.m. And Caniford’s expectations for the Cubs this week remain crystal clear.

“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.”


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