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With a taste of normalcy, Class 3A, DII’s 21st-ranked Clifton falls victim to Class 4A, DII Sanger’s fourth quarter rally in opener

ALEDO — When the Class 3A, Division II’s 21st-ranked Clifton Cubs took the field against the Class 4A, DII Sanger Indians at Aledo’s Bearcat Stadium last Friday night, everyone celebrated the return of Texas high school football in the wake of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Just playing a game felt like a victory of sorts for everyone involved.

“It’s such a blessing to be able to be back on the field,” said Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford, entering his seventh season with the Cubs. “There was a time when there was a lot of uncertainty regarding the season. So every time we get out on the field, we are grateful for the opportunity. If nothing else, it gives us all some small sense of normal during these crazy times.”

Coming off their sixth straight postseason appearance, the young and inexperienced Cubs could not overcome their own mistakes as Sanger rallied in the fourth quarter to win, 25-14, in the season opener. Despite three turnovers, Clifton clung to a 14-6 lead going into the final period before the Indians responded with 19 unanswered points to claim the victory.

“Turnovers were obviously a big part of the game, and we have to do a better job of minimizing those,” Caniford said. “A lot of that can be attributed to our inexperience, and I hope that this game will help us learn from those mistakes as we continue to grow.”

“Turnovers were obviously a big part of the game, and we have to do a better job of minimizing those,” Caniford said. “A lot of that can be attributed to our inexperience, and I hope that this game will help us learn from those mistakes as we continue to grow.”

Although Sanger (1-0) scored on the opening possession of the game, the momentum quickly turned to the Cubs as junior Jimmie Taylor blocked the extra point and junior Luis Rodriguez caught the ball in mid-air and returned it 90 yards to give the two-point conversion to Clifton.

Even though the Cubs (0-1) were able to move the ball on the ground against Sanger, neither team managed to score again in the first half. But it took a goal line stand by Clifton in the second quarter to keep the Indians out of the end zone.

“That was a huge sequence for us,” Caniford said. “Not just in that game, but it also shows us that we’ve got a lot of fight in this group, which is encouraging as we move forward.”

Defensively, junior Griffin Phillips led the Cubs with 11 tackles, followed by senior Elias Tebo with nine along with sophomores Carter Tunnell and Larrett Thomas with six each.

The scoring drought came to an end in the third quarter as Clifton took the second half kickoff and marched down the field on the ground to take the lead. While junior Jimmie Taylor provided most of the grinding on the ground to pile up a team-high 96 yards on 19 carries, sophomore Joe Taylor delivered three tough runs to get the Cubs in the end zone for the first touchdown of the season as Clifton grabbed an 8-6 advantage.

Then after the Cub defense buried Sanger on its ensuing possession, Clifton went right back to work on the ground. This time, junior Alex DeLaHoya delivered the extra punch as he bullied his way to 68 yards rushing and a score to help the Cubs build a 14-6 lead.

“Actually, I thought we moved the ball well in the first half,” Caniford said. “We only had two possessions in the half and moved the ball well on both. On the second possession, we started on our own one-yard line after the goal line stand, and then were able to flip the field and use almost the entire second quarter clock.

“We continued that in the third quarter by putting together a couple of nice scoring drives.”

But in the fourth quarter, everything went Sanger’s way, beginning with an impressive scoring drive mixing the passing of junior quarterback Rylan Smart and the powerful running of senior Tallyn Welborn, culminating with a four-yard touchdown run by Smart.

Then, after the Indians forced Clifton into a third down and 25-yard situation, Sanger senior Creed Carter picked off a Cub pass and returned it 45 yards for the go-ahead score. On Sanger’s next possession, Wellborn put the nails in Clifton’s coffin with a long touchdown romp to ice the game.

“We did a lot of really good things,” Caniford said. “And the areas where we need to improve are areas that can be fixed. We still have a lot of growing to do. But I’m encouraged with a lot of the things we did, especially against a 4A school who had a significant depth advantage in the game.

“Playing teams like this, and the others we have in non-district, will help us to continue to grow as a team and identify areas we need to improve as we prepare for district play.”


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