Clarkdale linemen practice

The Clarkdale linemen do shoots during practice Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, at the team's practice field.

Clarkdale senior offensive lineman Colby Thomas remembers the 2020 season opener at St. Patrick in Biloxi.

The Bulldogs were expecting an easy win, Thomas recalled, and instead were given a rude awakening in a 33-14 loss to the Fighting Irish. A year later, and Clarkdale is trying to avoid that same overconfidence: The 2-0 Bulldogs will host the 0-2 Fighting Irish Friday, and Thomas said the Clarkdale coaches are preaching not to put too much stock into St. Patrick’s record this early in the season.

“They can play hard, and we noticed that last year when we went down there expecting a blowout and weren’t prepared,” Thomas said. “From what I’ve seen on film, they’ve just made some mistakes. I feel like they could be good.”

A 42-28 win at Tupelo Christian in Week 1 and a 49-0 victory against Stringer last week has given Clarkdale some early momentum, but Bulldogs head coach Jason Soules has cautioned his players not to get caught up in their own hype.

“Being 2-0 is great if we go to 3-0,” Soules said. “You’re only as good as your last game, and we try to tell our kids when they start getting pats on the back and atta boys, it’s all great but it’s also rat poison. We just have to keep pushing to get better and do all we can do to win Friday night.”

At the same time, Soules said he’s pleased with his team’s progress from Week 1 until now.

“We’ve shown improvement from our jamboree,” Soules said. “The biggest thing, though, is we can’t be satisfied winning two games because our goal is to win way more than that. We just have to keep working, stay hungry and keep pushing every day to be the best we can be.”

Thomas said he’s not letting the 2-0 start get to his head, but it still feels better than being 1-1 or 0-2.

“The positivity is so strong, especially in games, and the momentum really does help,” Thomas said.

In film review, Soules said several things have stood out about his team’s early success: The offensive line is playing well, the running backs and quarterback Cal Culpepper have all done a good job and the defensive players are tackling and sticking to their assignments better.

“Hopefully we can keep doing that every day and win every day at practice because the reality is you only win on Friday if you go 4-0 during the week, so we have to win every day to win on Friday,” Soules said.

The biggest key to the offensive line’s success? Teamwork and the staff’s attention to the guys in the trenches, Thomas said.

“(The coaches) really focus on the offensive line because that’s our strongest point,” Thomas explained. “It all starts with us, so our coaches’ dedication to the offensive line is huge.”

The Bulldogs have an opportunity to improve to 3-0 Friday, and Soules said St. Patrick will be a tough obstacle for them to get off to their best start since the 2015 season, in which Clarkdale won its first four games.

“They’re 0-2, but they should be 2-0,” Soules said. “They have a really physical offensive line and really athletic, physical backs. We’re going to have to play our best to get a win, but it’s an opportunity to play a quality opponent. We hope we’re up to the challenge, and if we execute and do what we’re supposed to do, we should be right there in the fourth quarter.”

In order to avoid a letdown, Thomas said he and his teammates have to avoid the same overconfidence that plagued them a year ago against the Fighting Irish.

“We just have to play them like they’re the best team we’ll play, and we have to do that for every other team as well,” Thomas said. “That way we’ll be prepared for every Friday night.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Friday at Clarkdale.

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