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Despite loss to top-ranked Franklin, Clifton Cubs still alive in crowded four-team battle for District 13-3A, DII’s fourth place playoff berth

CLIFTON – Despite suffering a dominating defeat at the hands of Class 3A Division II’s top-ranked Franklin, the Clifton Cubs remain alive in the District 13-3A, DII playoff picture heading into the final week of the 2021 Texas high school football season.

Going into last Friday night’s game on the road, the Cubs knew they would have their hands full with undefeated and defending district champion Franklin as the Lions powered their way to a convincing 57-0 victory over Clifton.

“Franklin is very deserving of their ranking,” Clifton head coach Chuck Caniford said. “I thought we did some good things at times. But obviously, we didn’t do enough of them against a team like Franklin.”

Limiting the Lions (6-0 in district, 10-0 overall) to only 57 points proved to be a bit of a win for the Cub defense. After all, Franklin came into the game averaging 66.0 points per game in district and had posted 70-plus points in back-to-back victories over Florence and Buffalo. Junior Makail Brandenberger led the Cubs with seven tackles, followed by Finney with six and senior Sergio Garcia with five.

“Again, there were some moments where we did good things, but you have to be able to do them consistently to be able to stop them,” Caniford said. “Their backs are good enough that if you don’t do everything right, they can take it to the house on any play.”

Against a Franklin team that had only given up 8.2 points per game in five district contests, the Cubs (1-4, 1-8) were unable to get on the scoreboard while managing only 145 total yards of offense. Although senior JP Gardner broke off a 50-yard run for Clifton’s big play of the game, the Lions shut down the Cub running game powered by senior Will Simmons and junior Riley Finney.

“Their defense is extremely fast, and they do a good job with pursuit,” Caniford said. “There were many times where we got the point of attack blocked and it looked like we had a change to make a big play, but the backside pursuit go to us. 

“They also do a great job up front of getting off blocks and getting in the fight. Much like defensively, there were times that we did some good things, but you have to be able to do them on every play to compete with them.”

With Franklin, Rogers (4-1, 6-3) and Lexington (3-2, 5-4) having already secured postseason berths, the Cubs turn their attention to the battle for fourth place and the final spot in the playoffs out of District 13-3A, DII. Clifton wraps up the regular season by hosting the Lexington Eagles as four teams – Riesel (2-3, 4-4), Florence (1-4, 4-5), Buffalo (1-4, 2-7) and Clifton – remain in the hunt.

Lexington will be riding a two-game win streak into the District 13-3A, DII finale against the Cubs. Since losing to Rogers, 43-41, in double overtime, the Eagles have knocked off Florence, 47-10, and Buffalo, 59-41, to clinch the third place playoff berth.

“Lexington does a great job of spreading the ball around on offense,” Caniford said. “They have a four-year starter at quarterback who knows their offense inside and out and can make plays with his arm or his legs. We have to do a great job of tackling in space. 

“Defensively, they are going to attack up front and play man in the back end. We have to do a great job getting them on the ground, and we have to get downhill with our backs. When we have opportunities to make plays in the passing game, we have to convert on those opportunities.”

If the Cubs can beat Lexington, and Buffalo knocks off Riesel, it will create a three-way tie for fourth place.

“The post-season picture is as clear as mud,” Caniford said. “There are about five different scenarios, but none of them matter if we don’t beat Lexington. That’s our approach this week. The only thing that we can control is our effort on Friday night. We have no control over what happens in the other games, so we can’t waste time or energy worrying about that. We just need to find a way to win and see what shakes out.”


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