A pair of missed opportunities was the difference for the Bulldogs as Clarkdale fell to Sebastopol 20-10 in MHSAA prep football action Friday night at Clarkdale.
Trailing by 10 late in the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs made it all the way to the Sebastopol 32 but failed to convert a fourth-and-1 on a dropped pass. Earlier in the game, a pair of Bobcat penalties put Clarkdale on the Sebastopol 11 with 2:26 left in the third quarter and the Bulldogs trailing 13-3. Clarkdale was unable to punch it in the end zone, and the Bobcats blocked a field goal attempt to maintain a 10-point lead.
Sebastopol, meanwhile, relied on quarterback Jaden Mann’s rushing abilities for success, and he delivered to the tune of 190 yards on 24 attempts. He scored all three of the Bobcats’ touchdowns as well.
“He’s a huge player for us,” Sebastopol head coach Nicky Mooney said. “We knew he was going to be. He’s our guy we snap it to, and he had a big night tonight, and any time he has a big night we’re going to have a chance.”
The Bobcats finished with 290 yards on the ground to go along with 58 yards passing. Mann was 5 of 7 through the air, his longest pass going for 32 yards to Jahiem Johnson. Conner Henry tallied the other four catches for 26 yards.
Clarkdale had 196 yards rushing, the bulk of which came courtesy of Kodee Conner, who finished with 112 yards on 17 attempts. Head coach Jason Soules said he was pleased with the production he saw but said there were still plenty of steps to take in order to turn good production into wins.
“Last year we played that team and it was 44-0,” Soules said. “We’re coming, man. It’s going to be a while, but I think the people here can be happy that we played hard. Now, that’s not our goal — we lost, and there is no such thing as moral victories, but we’re coming, and I’m excited that our guys played hard.”
The Bulldogs were penalized 14 times for 76 1/2 yards, something Soules said proved costly along with the two stalled drives that didn’t put points on the scoreboard.
“We have to clean up some mistakes,” Soules said. “We left some points on the field that, if we clean up, we win the ball game. We’re being aggressive, we’re being physical, now we have to clean up the mistakes that gives us a chance to win the ball game.”
Clarkdale opened the game with a 13-yard drive that resulted in a 25-yard field goal by Mason Horne to give the Bulldogs an early 3-0 lead. Sebastopol scored with 2:01 left in the first half on a 4-yard rush by Mann to put the Bobcats ahead 7-3 going into the break.
In the third quarter, a 34-yard touchdown run by Mann and a missed PAT made it 13-3 with 8:56 left in the frame. Following Clarkdale’s failed drive that ended in a blocked field goal, Sebastopol marched down the field and punched it in with 8:09 left in the game on a 20-yard scoring run by Mann, making it 20-3 Sebastopol.
The Bulldogs didn’t go away, though, as freshman quarterback Cal Culpepper hit Conner for a 74-yard scoring pass with 7:43 left to play. Horne’s PAT cut the Bobcat lead to 20-10.
Culpepper was 4 of 12 in passing for 124 yards and a touchdown, and Soules said he was impressed with the freshman’s poise in his first game under center. Soules didn’t limit his praise to Culpepper, however.
“He’s one of those guys that’s coming,” Soules explained. “He’s one of those guys that, in a couple of years, is going to be special. He can be special right now, but more importantly, it’s a team game. He’s been thrust into a leadership role at a young age, but he’s going to do a great job. Gavin Moffett did a great job, Landon Conklin did a great job, Kodee Conner did a great job. The offensive line did a great job.”
Conklin rushed four times for 14 yards, and Moffett had 71 yards on 13 carries.
Mann limped off the field with 7:31 remaining in the game following a run but later returned, and Mooney said Mann should be OK.
“Hats off to Clarkdale,” Mooney said. “They played their tails off. They played hard, and I’m proud of my kids. I thought we played hard and fought through the second half and won both halves of the football game, and that’s what we go out to do every week.”
Soules said the message heading into Week 2 is the same: change the culture.
“Losing is not acceptable, and that’s the thing we have to change at Clarkdale,” Soules said. “The moral victory junk is not who we are. We’re coming, and we’re going to win ball games. Losing close games is not what we’re about, but I am proud of our effort.”
Sebastopol (1-0) hosts Enterprise-Lincoln next week, while Clarkdale (0-1) travels to Stringer next Friday.