in Football

Heading into District 13-3A, DII on a positive note, the Clifton Cubs open with a determined 36-19 victory over the Riesel Indians

CLIFTON — The power of momentum should not be underestimated. And once you build it, you want to maintain it. But while it can be an elusive force of nature, determination can take control over it. And with that, one must accept personal responsibility for creating momentum or breaking it.

Refusing to succumb to a discernible size disadvantage, the determined Clifton Cubs battled through a hard-fought first half to wear down the Riesel Indians on their way to a convincing 36-19 District 13-3A, Division II opening victory Friday night at Cub Stadium.

After the breakthrough win last week in the final non-district game against perennial powerhouse Tenaha, the Cubs kept the momentum going into district as a team with five different Clifton players scoring behind a balanced and diversified offensive attack.

“It’s always good to start the district schedule with a win,” Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford said. “Every game carries the same weight in district, but starting 1-0 gives you a little room to breathe and not feel like your back is against the wall. 

“I was proud of the kids’ effort on Friday night. We played really well defensively again and were able to build on some things offensively that we got going the week before.”

Managing to cling to an 8-6 lead going into intermission, the Cubs (1-0 in district, 2-3 overall) survived a defensive struggle in the first half. But with the exception of a couple of big plays, the Clifton defense bottled up the Riesel offensive attack throughout the game. And most importantly, the Cubs came up with four turnovers, picking off three passes and recovering a fumble.

“We’ve played really good defense all year long and that continued on Friday night,” Caniford said. “They have some kids that create some serious matchup problems, and our coaches did a great job of trying to minimize those advantages. 

“We were able to create turnovers again this week, which is huge. For the second straight week, we won the turnover battle. And when you do that, you have a really good chance to be successful.”

Sophomore Larrett Thomas led Clifton with seven tackles and an interception, followed by senior Devin Byrd with six takedowns and a pickoff. Junior Will Simmons had two tackles for losses, sophomore Makail Brandenberger collected two sacks, senior Elias Tebo recovered a fumble and junior Luis Rodriguez pulled down an interception.

On the other side of the ball, Riesel consistently penetrated into the Clifton offensive backfield to disrupt things in the first half. But the Cubs countered by hitting on some big pass plays early, then appeared to wear down the Indians in the second half.

“We struggled moving their defensive front in the first half,” Caniford said. “They have some really good size, and it took us a while to get them worn down. But we were able to hit some big plays in the passing game, which gave us a chance to move the football.  I thought Luis Rodriguez and Tyler Anderson had big nights for us offensively.”

With Riesel corralling the Cub ground game, freshman quarterback Riley Finney went to the air, connecting with Rodriguez on a 37-yard scoring strike for the game’s first points. Finney later hit Anderson for a 56-yard gain with a shoestring tackle becoming the only thing preventing another touchdown.

But in the second half, Clifton began to pound away on the ground behind the punishing running of sophomore Joe Taylor, who finished with 71 yards and a score. Finney used speed and wiggle to pick up 69 rushing yards on 14 carries, while Byrd and Anderson ran for touchdowns as the Cubs piled up 225 yards on 48 attempts.

“Once we got to the second half, we were able to get things going on the ground a little more,” Caniford said.  “I think that is not unusual with our style of offense. We’ve scored 60 points in the fourth quarter in the last two games, and I think that is a product of wearing our opponent down and then hitting big plays.”

Finney completed nine of 17 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns, also hooking up with Tebo on a three-yard scoring toss in the third quarter following a blocked punt deep in Indian territory.

But the win over Riesel (0-1, 2-3) simply represents the beginning of Clifton’s tough battle in a stacked seven-team district for one of four playoff berths. At the midway point of the season, sixth-ranked Franklin (1-0, 2-2), seventh-ranked Lexington (0-1, 3-1) and undefeated Buffalo (1-0, 5-0) stand at the top of the district with Rogers (0-1, 1-4) and Florence (0-0, 0-4) waiting in the wings.

“Every week is going to be a battle, and every week matters at this point,” Caniford said. “We always tell our kids that the most important game is the next one, and that is definitely true in this district. We could put our team in a really good position if we can find a way to get another win this week.”

Execution provides the foundation for momentum. And during the last two weeks, the Clifton Cubs have been getting it done on both sides of the ball.


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