Visiting Wildcats slog to victory in division opener

SALTILLO – Don’t let Clarksdale’s record fool you.
The Wildcats entered Friday night’s Division 1-5A opener at Saltillo with a 1-3 record, but that mark isn’t exactly a true indicator of how good they are. Clarksdale’s three losses were to West Bolivar, Christian Brothers (Tenn.) and South Panola – all exceptional teams.
“That’s how you get better, though,” said Clarksdale head coach Charles Reid. “That’s how you get better by playing tough competition out of division.
“We can’t pick our division teams, but we can pick our out-of-division teams.”
Proving they’re not afraid to take on anyone anywhere and how that tough competition prepares them for division play, the Wildcats defeated Saltillo 14-7 in the mud on Friday night.
“Real messy field, real messy,” said Reid, whose team is now 2-3 on the season. “We didn’t know how we were going to get through this – it’s so messy out here.”
Three fumbles plagued Saltillo in the first half, and Clarksdale dominated the time of possession to lead 14-0 at halftime.
Saltillo’s offense didn’t run its first play from scrimmage until there were three minutes left in the first quarter.
Darius Brooks and Travis Young scored on 4- and 5-yard runs, respectively, in the first and second quarters.
“You can’t lay the ball on the ground and give them a short field no matter what conditions you play in,” said Saltillo head coach Greg May, whose team dropped to 3-2 and 0-1 in the division. “And we did that tonight and it hurt us early on offensively.

‘We didn’t do that’
“I’m not taking anything away from Clarksdale – that’s a good football team – but we gotta hold onto the football and execute on offense, and we didn’t do that tonight in the first half.”
Quarterback Drew Chisholm fumbled the snap on the first possession of the second half for Saltillo. However, Clarksdale would also fumble in the third quarter, and this time it proved costly.
Defensive back Jalen Gaston scooped up the loose pigskin and raced 32 yards for a touchdown to make it 14-7 following the extra point with just over three minutes to play in the third period.
Saltillo’s defense came up big again when it stopped a Clarksdale drive on the Saltillo 7-yard line to start the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats would return the favor by stopping Saltillo on downs with two minutes to go in the game.
“I told our guys before tonight that it was going to be messy and we are going to have to make them pay for their mistakes,” May said.
“And we didn’t. We paid for our mistakes and we didn’t make them pay for theirs.”

John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal