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Class 3A, DII Clifton carries momentum of wild win over Tenaha into District 13-3A, DII opener against Riesel

CLIFTON — For the Class 3A, Division II Clifton Cubs, that pivotal breakthrough moment could not have come at a better time.

After appearing to be on the brink of returning to their winning ways in each of the first three weeks of the season against bigger schools, the Cubs put it all together in dramatic fashion last Friday night in a thrilling 43-26 come-from-behind win over the perennial tough Tenaha Tigers, snapping a three-game losing streak in their final non-district game.

Hoping to carry that momentum into District 13-3A, DII competition, the Cubs (1-3) move into the most important part of the regular season by hosting the Riesel Indians (2-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cub Stadium.

“The first win of the year is always the hardest to get, and it gets harder the longer it takes to get it,” Clifton head coach Chuck Caniford said. “You start pressing trying to do too much, and that’s usually when mistakes happen. I thought our guys showed a lot of poise on Friday night. And hopefully, we will build on that momentum this week.”

Producing the best offensive performance of the season, the Cubs became explosive on the ground and through the air against Tenaha, particularly in the fourth quarter when Clifton put up 29 points. With freshman quarterback Riley Finney at the helm, the Cubs piled up a season-high 358 yards of total offense as sophomore Joe Taylor rushing for a season-best 101 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns.

“I really felt like we were very close the previous couple of weeks,” Caniford said. “Early in the year, turnovers stopped us, and then it was penalty. We won the turnover battle and only had two penalties against Tenaha, and that allowed us to be successful.

“We’ve been doing a lot of good things, so if we can minimize those types of drive killers, we can continue to be effective on offense.”

After adjusting to the Tenaha speed on display early in the game, the Cub defense stepped up and practically shut down the Tigers in the second half. And as good as the defense has been all season, that might have been the best games of the season. Led by senior Devin Byrd with 12 tackles, the Cubs came up with five fumble recoveries.

“I thought the kids did a really good job of adjusting to the speed in the second quarter,” Caniford said. “And our coaches did a nice job of making adjustments that allowed our kids to play fast. When we play fast, we have the ability to be a very strong defense against anyone we play.”

Now, it’s time for the Cubs to turn their attention to a tough slate of district games, beginning with the Riesel Indians.

Coming off a playoff appearance in 2019, Riesel has nine offensive and eight defensive starters returning. After opening the season with back-to-back home victories over Marlin, 38-14, and Hamilton, 39-14, the Indians had dropped two straight road games at Clyde, 52-14, and at Bosqueville, 52-26.

“Riesel has good size on both sides of the ball,” Caniford said. “We just have to continue to build on what we’ve been doing. If we can execute well and minimize mistakes, we will have an opportunity to be successful.”


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