The first challenge was getting over the hill, and the next challenge is keeping the train rolling.

That’s what Clarkdale faces following a 24-18 victory against Kemper County last week. The win against the Wildcats marked the first win for the Bulldogs (3-4, 1-2) in a divisional contest since a 29-24 victory at Newton on Oct. 9, 2015, back when Clarkdale was a Class 2A team. 

Clarkdale head coach Jason Soules said there had been some positive signs against Forest and Morton earlier this month, games the Bulldogs lost by just a combined 10 points, 39-36 and 27-20, respectively. Finally putting it all together and winning a Region 5-3A game left Soules both happy for and proud of his players.

“We’ve been knocking on the door and playing solid football, and it shows the kids that if we execute, we can play with anyone,” Soules said. “Now we’re preaching that we can’t have a letdown. We have to continue playing hard and doing the little things right.”

Two major keys for the Bulldogs last week were long, methodical drives and hard-nosed play, both of which they’ll need in order to finish the regular season strong.

“I thought we played extremely physical and limited our mistakes and limited Kemper’s big plays,” Soules said. “The kids played extremely hard, and we were able to shorten the game by holding onto the ball and keeping their explosive offense on the sidelines.”

After playing Forest and Morton close, Soules said he felt like his team would eventually get a divisional win if they continued to improve each week.

“Even though we lost those games, I wanted our kids to take a little confidence away from them,” Soules said. “Forest and Morton are good teams, and we were right there with them, and we’re a good team that was so close to kicking the door down, and finally we did.”

Up next for Clarkdale is a trip to Sacred Heart Friday, and Soules said the Crusaders will present unique challenges for his team and will require the Bulldogs to play smart football.

“They’re very well-coached and physical and will give us some challenges,” Soules said. “They run multiple formations, so we have to come out and make our checks and calls and adjust to those formations. Offensively, we have to do what we do, which is run the football and only pass when we want to, not when we have to. If we do those things, we’ll have a chance to win the game.”

Looking ahead, Soules said his team’s playoff hopes are likely contingent on the Bulldogs’ game at Southeast Lauderdale Oct. 30, depending on how Southeast Lauderdale fares against Kemper County this week.

“We can finish anywhere from second to out of the playoffs (in our division), but we’ll worry about Southeast when Southeast gets here,” Soules said. “Right now, we have to go to Sacred Heart, and we have to play well down there.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday at Sacred Heart.

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