RUNNING THE GAUNTLET

in Football

The road through the non-district schedule remains tough as the Class 3A, DII Clifton Cubs return home still looking for first win

CLIFTON — Entering the 2020 Texas high school football season in search for their seventh straight postseason berth, the Clifton Cubs have been down this road before. And in the past, running the gauntlet of tough non-district opponents has always proved to be the formula for success in district play.

Clifton might not be playing a larger school this week, but the Class 3A, Division II Cubs (0-3) will be facing the Class 2A, DII’s pre-season 11th-ranked Tenaha Tigers at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cub Stadium. Not originally on the schedule, Tenaha (1-1) represents yet another perennial postseason powerhouse to challenge Clifton in non-district.

“This is another opportunity for us to get better against a very talented opponent,” Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford said. “Tenaha is no stranger to playoff success, and they will have a lot of speed, which we need to see because we will see plenty of it in district play.”

Upon his arrival over six years ago, Caniford has always challenged his teams with tough non-district schedules. Never has that proven to be more true than this season. Last week, the Class 3A, Division II Cubs took on its third straight team from a larger classification, dropping a hard-fought decision to the Class 3A, DI Maypearl Panthers, 17-7.

Despite being in a position to win in the fourth quarter during all three games, the young and inexperienced Cubs have fallen victim to turnovers in losses to Class 4A, DII Sanger, 25-14, and Class 3A, DI Little River-Academy, 17-0, to open the 2020 campaign.

Overall, the Cub defense has played well enough to win, and they have gotten the job done as a unit. Seniors Devin Byrd and Griffin Phillips lead Clifton with 19 tackles each, followed by senior Elias Tebo with 16 as well as sophomore Larrett Thomas and freshman Riley Finney with 15 apiece and junior Jimmie Taylor with 14.

Despite playing larger schools, Clifton has had a chance to win all three games late, but mistakes — turnovers and penalties — have hurt. In fact, during the first three games of the season, the Cubs have turned the ball over nine times. Last week against Maypearl, untimely penalties brought back potential scoring opportunities.

“Our first three opponents are a combined 9-0, and you aren’t going to beat that caliber of opponent without eliminating those mistakes,” Caniford said. “Most of those mistakes are correctable and usually tie back to focusing on fundamentals and situational awareness.”

With the turnovers and penalities, the Clifton offensive attack has struggled to find consistency. While the running game has shown potential, the passing game has failed to take flight. But after making some offensive personnel changes in the second half against Maypearl, the Cubs showed some signs of a spark after spending most of the first half in hibernation.

“We made a couple of personnel changes in the second half against Maypearl, and some of those will remain due to injuries, etc.,” Caniford said. “With our open week not scheduled until the next to last week of the season, it is critical that we do a good job of managing injuries at this point in the year so that they don’t linger into district play.”

After missing the playoffs last season for the first time since 2006, Tenaha appears poised to get back to where they belong, selected by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football as the favorite to win District 11-2A, DII. The Tigers opened the season with a 42-29 loss to Class 2A, DI Honey Grove, had their Week 2 game against Arp cancelled, then knocked off Class 3A, DII Kountze, 49-0 last week.

“They have a lot of team speed with several dynamic playmakers on offense,” Caniford said. “They are very solid in the kicking game with some dangerous returners. Defensively, they get to the ball well and will press our receivers in man coverage. 

“We just have to continue to get better and play more consistently. We have shown flashes of what we are capable of, but have to find a way to put it all together for four quarters.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

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