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Facing a gauntlet of non-district opponents, the Class 3A, DII Clifton Cubs fall on the road at Class 3A, DI Little River-Academy Bumblebees, 35-7

ACADEMY – Progress does not always show up in the win column. For the second straight week to open the 2021 Texas high school football season, the Class 3A, Division II Clifton Cubs took on a playoff-caliber team in the Class 3A, DI Little-River Academy Bumblebees. And for the second consecutive time, the Cubs walked away in the loss column.

Sophomore quarterback Kasey Mraz threw four touchdown passes to lead Little River-Academy to an impressive 35-7 victory over Clifton in a non-district matchup last Friday night at John Glover Stadium.

Using the identical tactic of scheduling tough non-district opponents for the eighth straight year, the Cubs have advanced to the postseason six of the last seven seasons.

“We’ve told the kids all along that although the results are frustrating right now, we have to keep our focus on the process and understanding what we are trying to do,” Clifton football head coach Chukc Caniford said. “Our goal right now is to be better every week. Playing quality non-district opponents helps us identify areas that need to be addressed. If you play people that you can just physically dominate, a lot of times you aren’t able to identify your weaknesses and address them until it’s too late.”

Throughout the game, the Cub defense could not find a way to stop the big pass plays from Mraz to junior receiver Scout Brazela, who connected for three long scoring strikes and another big pass that set up the first Bumblebee score. Getting on the scoreboard first, Mraz hit Brazela for a 49-yard gain to freshman running back Justyn Reyes early touchdown run.

But after Clifton (0-2) tied the score in the second quarter on senior Will Simmons’ touchdown run, the Bumblebees produced 28 unanswered points by striking four times through the air. Alex Lawton hooked up with Reyes for a 18-yard touchdown pass before Mraz connected with Brazela three straight long scoring strikes to put the game away.

“I thought we did a nice job against the run, but struggled on the deep balls,” Caniford said. “We had people in position on several of those plays. But they were able to make a play, and we didn’t. Give Academy credit, they came up with the plays they needed to make. We’ve just got to continue to get better at playing the receivers hands when the ball is in the air.”

Defensively, Simmons led Clifton with seven tackles, followed by sophomore Riley Finney with five takedowns and a fumble recovery.

Despite scoring early in the second quarter, the Cub offense could not get in the end zone again, struggling to sustain drives. The Bumblebees (2-0) limited Clifton to 162 total yards of offense as the Cubs managed only 133 rushing yards on 44 attempts, led by Finney with 47 yards on 11 carries.

“Offensively, we played better than we did the previous week, but we struggled to finish drives,” Caniford said. “We had a lot fewer unforced errors, but still made some mistakes at critical times. It’s frustrating for sure, but we are starting to develop our identity on offense, and you can see the kids getting more comfortable with their assignments.

“What I was most encouraged by was our ability to make some plays in the passing game. We are going to have to be able to do that when people load up the box on us. You can see our offensive line starting to come around, and I’m confident that we will get better again this week.”

Coming up this Friday at Cub Stadium, Clifton will host Class 3A, DI Maypearl, picked to return to the postseason out of District 7-3A, DI behind state-ranked powerhouses Grandview and West. The Panthers (0-1) opened the season with a 58-14 loss at Ferris Aug. 26 before having an open date last week.

“They do a good job of spreading the ball around on offense and forcing you to defend the entire field,” Caniford said. “We’ve got to continue to get better at minimizing the big plays and have to get pressure on the quarterback.

“Defensively, they are going to give you a lot of different looks and pressure you, so we have to do a good job of trusting our rules and each man doing their job and not over thinking things. We also need to do a better job of finishing drives.”

With two more non-district games remaining on the schedule before district begins Sept. 24, the Cubs have identified areas that need work and have time to get them taken care of to be ready to challenge for a playoff berth.

“Our mentality is, and always has been, to learn what we need to fix in non-district before district play begins,” Caniford said. “They don’t give out district championship trophies in non-district. In 2016, we were 0-4 in non district, and then went undefeated and won the district championship.

“If we can stay focused on getting better every day and not get frustrated, then we will be where we need to be in a couple of weeks when district play begins.”


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