By Tony Altobelli

Killeen Daily Herald

SALADO Salado coach Jeff Cheatham knows the importance of starting strong in a football game. Last week, his team learned firsthand that very piece of information.

Early-game mistakes put the Eagles in a 21-3 hole and despite a strong effort, they fell to offensive powerhouse Liberty Hill 55-39.

Tonight against Clifton, Salado knows how crucial it will be to get the positive mojo flowing early.

"Last week, we did a good job of moving the ball, but we put ourselves in too big of a hole early on," Cheatham said. "But overall, it was a good learning experience for our club.

"We started off the game as young boys and finished the game as men, in my opinion."

The Cubs (1-0), who defeated Rio Vista 28-0 last week, advanced to the playoffs a year ago and have a tendency to be quick starters as well.

In last year's contest, Mitch Nichols took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. It turned out to be the team's only score as the Eagles posted a 28-7 win.

"They're (the Cubs) are coming off a big week a week ago and there are several things we need to concern ourselves with," Cheatham said. "They have good team speed and they're big up front on both sides of the ball. In fact, they probably will have the biggest defensive line we'll face all season."

Players to watch for the Cubs include wide receiver Joe McLennan, who led the offense with 34 receptions for 845 yards and six touchdowns last season. On the ground, Nichols rushed for 734 yards and four touchdowns, so the Eagles will need to be mindful of both facets of the Cubs' offense.

Anchoring the Cubs' defense will be speedy defensive backs Nathan Gant, Neil Payne and Nathan Townley. "They're very quick in the secondary," Cheatham said.

That secondary will be put to the test against an Eagle offense that racked up over 200 yards passing last week against Liberty Hill. Quarterback Wesley Ruth threw for 204 yards on 11-of-29 passing and also rushed for 123 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries for Salado.

Ruth's favorite target came from Blake Newman, who caught eight passes for 125 yards.

"Once we finally settled down, we managed to move the ball very effectively," Cheatham said. "This will be a good game for us and if we can find the win column, that will really get us rolling in the right direction."

Contact Tony Altobelli at

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