TALE OF TWO HALVES: Gunter drops Clifton as 2nd-half rally falls short

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Class 3A, DII Area Playoff: Gunter 27, Clifton 14

WAXAHACHIE – In a tale of two halves, the Clifton Cubs failed to take advantage of several second half opportunities as the Class 3A, Division II’s fourth-ranked Gunter Tigers held on to knock off the Cubs, 27-14, in an Area playoff showdown Friday night at Waxahachie’s Lumpkins Stadium.

While anything short of a state championship always ends in disappointment for any team playing in the postseason, the Cubs (8-4) were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs for the sixth straight season.

“We are obviously disappointed for the season to come to an end, but I am very proud of this group of young men,” said Clifton head coach Chuck Caniford, who has led the Cubs to four consecutive district titles and six straight trips to the postseason since taking over at Clifton. “They have battled adversity all year and continued to fight and work to achieve their goals, and Friday night was no different.” 

Gunter (11-1) dominated the first half, scoring 20 unanswered second quarter points to take a commanding 27-7 lead into the locker room at intermission. The Tigers rolled up 250 first half yards, 201 on the ground while the Gunter defense shut down the Cub running game, allowing only 24 yards on 17 carries.

“We got ourselves in a hole in the first half, and I challenged them at halftime to show us what they are all about, and they did that,” Caniford said. “They never gave up and gave us a chance in the second half.  Unfortunately, we were not able to capitalize on the opportunities we got.

Clifton turned the table on the Tigers in the second half, outgaining Gunter in total yards, 221-46, but the Cubs were unable to capitalize. The Cubs began to mount a second-half comeback with a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive early in the third quarter, as senior quarterback Mason Brandenberger connected with senior wide receiver TJ Ferch for a 22-yard scoring strike.

Then the Clifton defense rose to the occasion to stop Gunter with a fumble recovery, but the Cubs could not capitalize. In fact, Clifton came up with two Tiger turnovers in the second half, but the Cubs gave it right back twice to nullify the opportunities. Despite three chances to make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter, Clifton could not put points on the board.

“You have to give Gunter a lot of credit,” Caniford said. “They have an outstanding football team and made the plays that they needed to make to win the game.”

As Clifton’s primary offensive weapon, Ferch finished with 10 catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns, while Brandenberger completed 15 of33 passes for 246 yards despite suffering two interceptions.

Defensively, Ferch led the Cubs with 14 tackles and an interception, followed by senior Riley Perry with 12 tackles and a sack, senior Mason Ochoa with 11 tackles, sophomore Griffin Phillips with two sacks and senior Hayden Newton with a fumble recovery.

“I am extremely proud of this senior class for all that they have achieved in our program,” Caniford said.  “I know that they are disappointed, as we all are. But when they look back on their career at Clifton High School, they will see a lot of tremendous accomplishments that they can be proud of. 

“As I told them after the game, I am disappointed for them, but I am definitely not disappointed in them. They showed the character and fight that we all know they have on Friday night and left it all on the field.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING & SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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