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Class 3A, DII Clifton alum & first-year head coach Brent Finney hopes to restore winning tradition for the Cubs, return to playoffs

CLIFTON – With a clear understanding and vast experience being a part of where the Clifton Cub football program has been in the past, Clifton High School alum and longtime assistant Brent Finney takes over as athletic director and head coach with his eyes firmly on the future.

Looking to get back into the Class 3A, Division II playoffs for the first time since 2019, Finney will lead the Cubs as they embark on the 2022 Texas high school football season.

Despite playing football since 1919, Clifton will begin its quest by facing the Merkel Badgers for the first time as alum and first-year head coach Brent Finney will lead the Cub onto the field playing at a neutral site in Cisco at 7 p.m. Thursday at Chesley Field.

“We are playing at a neutral site because of the distance,” Finney said. “We like where we are heading into the opener against Merkel. Our kids are playing physical and with a lot of energy on both sides of the ball.”

Much like the Cubs, Merkel struggled last season while winning only one district game and the Badgers enter 2022 picked by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine to finish last in District 5-3A, Division II. But second-year head coach Will Kates returned 15 lettermen from last year’s young squad, including seven offensive and five defensive starters.

Entering his 27th year as a high school coach, Finney will get his first football head coaching and athletic director opportunity at his high school alma mater as he graduated from Clifton High School in 1991 before graduating from Tarleton in 1996.

“Clifton is a very important part of our lives and the lives of our families,” Finney said. “This was a great opportunity to continue to serve the kids of our community and give back to the community that has done so much for us.”

Finney spent eight years at Cameron Yoe before coming back home to Clifton 18 years ago in 2004. And during the last eight seasons under former head coach Chuck Caniford, the Cubs advanced to the playoffs six times, winning three district championships.

In 2020, Clifton stayed home during the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and watched as all four playoff qualifiers from the district – Franklin, Buffalo, Rogers and Lexington – advanced to Region IV semifinals. But they basically experienced a repeat last season facing the same district lineup. In fact, after losing in the 2020 state championship game, Franklin ranked No. 1 from start to finish before claiming the Class 3A, Division II state title in 2021.

Even though the UIL realignment last February produced the departure of Franklin, there are still plenty of familiar and competitive opponents in the revamped District 13-3A, DII as Clifton joins a tough lineup of district opponents – Buffalo, Elkhart, Florence, 16th-ranked Lexington and 22nd-ranked Rogers in the six-team league.

“Our district will again be very competitive, but we believe we will be right in the playoff mix,” Finney said. “Many of our returners gained valuable experience last year as we had to play many younger guys last season. Lexington and Rogers are going to be the favorites, and they’re perennial playoff teams. But I see us right in the mix of the playoff race.”

With 17 returning lettermen that includes six offensive starters, Finney decided to install the Wing-T offense calling the offensive line and running back positions the strength of the 2022 Cubs. In an attack that utilizes misdirection, fake handoffs and down blocking, the Cubs will rely on junior fullback Riley Finney to lead backfield after rushing for 774 yards last season.

Turning to senior Trent Guinn to handle the signal calling, the Wing-T backfield will include junior running back Parker Tunnell and senior wing back Carter Tunnell. Primary targets in the passing game will be junior wide receiver Andres Devora and senior tight end Jordan Enriquez.

In the trenches, seniors Caden Page, Westen Urbanovsky and Peyten Urbanovsky will open holes for the running game and provide protection for the passing attack.

“Offensively, we will have a new quarterback, and we’ve seen some good things,” Finney said. “We still have to fix a few assignments up front, and some timing issues in the passing game. But we were very happy with our ability to move the ball consistently, and it is always good to be able to hit a few big plays.”

With seven starters returning to the defensive side of the ball, Clifton will be led by senior defensive lineman Makail Brandenberger up front, Finney will head the linebacking corps after collecting 68 tackles last season, while senior Larrett Thomas, Parker Tunnell, and Devora will man the defensive backfield.

“Defensively, we must replace many of our defensive backs,” Finney said. “But we were very excited about how hard and physical we played in our scrimmages. We still have some adjusting to do and alignment things to fix. But overall, it was very positive.”

Photos courtesy of TERRI HUFFMAN-FINNEY, White’s Photography

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