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After jumping ahead early, Clifton Cubs dealt crushing District 13-3A, DII defeat at Florence in wake of Buffalo stampede

FLORENCE — In a back-and-forth battle for momentum throughout the game, the Clifton Cubs could not find enough magic to produce their first win of the season. And in the process, the Florence Buffaloes rallied to race past the Cubs, 39-30, in a District 13-3A, Division II showdown last Friday night at Stampede Stadium.

Despite leading 14-0 early in the second quarter, the Cubs could not maintain the momentum. Then Florence  busted some big plays that broke Clifton’s back.

“Again, we’re very disappointed with the loss, but proud of how hard our kids played and continued to fight,” Clifton football head coach Chuck Caniford said. “We got out to a lead and then had a special teams breakdown in the first half that got them back into it.”

With the Cubs (0-3 in district, 0-7 overall) still leading 14-8, Florence junior Levi Martin returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown before senior quarterback Victor Bonilla connected Jared Jimenez for the two-point conversion to give the Buffaloes (1-1, 4-2) a 16-14 lead with 5:55 left in the half.

Clifton promptly responded with an impressive scoring drive culminated by sophomore running back Riley Finney slicing in for a seven-yard score as the Cubs recaptured the lead, 22-16, with 0:30 on the clock.

But the Buffaloes answered right back, needing only three plays to move into field goal range as junior Angel Perez nailed a 40-yarder to pull Florence within three at intermission.

After having an apparent 96-yard second half kickoff return nullified by a penalty, the Cubs marched the length of the field before the Buffaloes halted the drive at their own three-yard line. Three plays later, Martin slipped through on the left side and outran the Cubs for an electrifying 91-yard touchdown to put Florence ahead to stay, 26-22, with 3:16 left in the third quarter.

“We responded with a good drive to start the second half, but couldn’t punch it in and came away with no points,” Caniford said.”They made the plays they needed to make to win, and we didn’t.”

The Buffaloes padded their lead with a fourth quarter scoring drive as Bonilla took a keeper 19 yards up the middle to score and give Florence a comfortable 33-22 lead with 6:59 remaining.

But the Cubs weren’t done yet as senior quarterback Robert Goodman got a pass off under heavy pressure and connected with sophomore Andres Devora streaking down the sideline for an over-the-shoulder 30-yard scoring strike. Finney slipped in on the two-point conversion to pull Clifton within three.

At that point, Florence embarked on a time-consuming drive as Martin ran it in from three yards out to make it a two-score game, 39-30, with only 2:30 left in the game.

“We had opportunities and couldn’t close it out,” Caniford said. “When you are struggling, you tend to press more because you want to win so bad, and you end up making mistakes that cost you. We have to do a better job of finishing drives on offense and minimizing big plays on defense.”

Behind the powerful running of senior Will Simmons and Finney, the Cubs opened the game with back-to-back scoring drives to build an early 14-0 lead. Simmons finished as Clifton’s rushing leader with 115 yards and a touchdown, followed by Finney with 78 yards and two score. Goodman completed nine of 19 passes for 135 yards, connecting with Devora seven times for 96 yards.

Defensively, Finney led the Cubs with six tackles, followed by seniors JP Gardner and Logan Weir with three each, senior Doniven King with an interception and Simmons with a fumble recovery.

On the brink of elimination, the Cubs return home to host the Buffalo Bison (1-1, 2-4) at 7:30 p.m. Friday for Homecoming Night at Cub Stadium.

“This is obviously a huge game for us this week,” Caniford said. “Buffalo does a good job of spreading the ball around on offense and forcing you to defend the entire field. We have to do a good job of minimizing big plays.  They are going to be aggressive up front on defense and we have to do a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage.”

Coming off an open week, the Bison opened district with a 62-6 loss to the Rogers Eagles Sept. 24 before bouncing back to slip past Florence, 40-37. “Special teams will also be huge this week as these games often come down to who can make plays on those units,” Caniford said. “I have no doubt that our kids will continue to fight and do everything they can to get a win this week.”


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