DOWN TO THE WIRE

in Football

Despite second half rally, Class 3A, DII Clifton Cubs come up short in Rio Vista; host Bosqueville in home opener Friday

Proving to be a tale of two halves, the battle between the Class 3A, Division II Clifton Cubs and the playoff favorite Rio Vista Eagles went down to the wire. And even though Rio Vista hung on for a dramatic 26-24 victory over the Cubs last Friday night, Clifton played like winners in the second half on the road.

“Obviously, we were not happy with the loss,” Clifton first-year head coach Brent Finney said. “But I was very proud of our staff and players for how we responded. They came out in the second half and gave us a chance.”

Despite trailing 20-3 at halftime, Clifton (1-1) rallied in the second half to have an opportunity to win the game. Producing more than 300 yards of offense for the second straight game, the Cubs also showed the ability to break the big play as well. Junior fullback Riley Finney led the Cubs’ Wing-T ground game with 119 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including an electrifying 41-yard score to pull Clifton to within three points, trailing 20-17.

But a couple of turnovers proved costly. In fact, just when it looked like the Cubs had seized the opportunity to complete an unlikely comeback with a fourth quarter interception, Clifton gave the ball right back to the Eagles with a fumble. Rio Vista (2-0) promptly responded to rebuild its advantage, 26-17, with 5:49 remaining in the game.

But the Cubs weren’t done yet. Junior running back Parker Tunnell tossed a 37-yard scoring strike to senior wide receiver Jadyn Simmons to make it a two-point game. In addition to the touchdown pass, Parker Tunnell rushed for 93 yards on 19 carries. Clifton ended up getting the ball one last time in the final two minutes, but could not produce the game-winner.

“We must continue to improve on capitalizing on our scoring opportunities,” Finney said. “We cannot turn the ball over and put ourselves in that big of a hole.”

Clifton scored first with senior Trent Guinn’s 24-yard field goal in the first quarter. Led by Rio Vista senior quarterback Taylor Pritchett, the Eagles responded with 20 unanswered points to take a seemingly commanding 20-3 lead before intermission. Pritchett completed 17 of 29 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 93 yards and two scores.

But after surrendering three first half touchdowns, the Cub defense found a way to slow down Rio Vista in the second half, allowing only one score. And certainly, the Cubs coming up with three interceptions by three different defenders – senior Carter Tunnell, junior Andres Devora and junior Ervin Rodriguez – played a key part in allowing Clifton to get back into the game.

“We knew they threw the ball well,” Finney said. “But the defense did a great job slowing down their run game in the second half also. The interceptions were huge, and gave us some much-needed momentum.”

While the Cub defense provided the opportunities in the second half, the Clifton offensive attack capitalized to get back into the game. Defensively, Finney led the Cubs with 12 tackles, followed by senior Larrett Thomas with 10 takedowns, as well as seniors Makail Brandenberger and Peyten Urbanovsky with six each.

But in the end, it wasn’t enough. Despite the loss, the Cubs showed character and the will to win.

“We talked at halftime and made a few adjustments,” Finney said. “But the main thing was our kids came out and played with a renewed sense of urgency and energy. I cannot say enough how proud I am of their fight and effort.”

This week, the Cubs will play their first game at home when they host the Class 2A, DI Bosqueville Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Cub Stadium. Despite being picked by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine to place third in District 8-2A, DI behind fourth-ranked Marlin and seventh-ranked Crawford, Bosqueville has opened the season with back-to-back losses to Chilton, 42-13, and Hamilton, 35-33.

“It will be nice to finally play a home game,” Finney said. “Bosqueville is a good football team. They have some explosive players, and we must continue to improve. We have to do a better job of sustaining drives offensively. We were able to clean up the penalties, but we must focus on not turning the ball over and giving them extra chances.”

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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