The Clifton Cubs claimed the 3A Division II bi-district title Friday night, staving off a second-half comeback to eliminate the Marlin Bulldogs, 41-29, at Robinson High School.
Marc Gutierrez rushed for 239 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Cubs into the second round of the Class 3A playoffs as Clifton built a 21-0 halftime lead and withstood the playmaking Bulldog offense in the second half.
Clifton coach Chuck Caniford credited his defense with making Marlin work for its second third-quarter touchdown after a blocked punt gave the Bulldogs new life, trailing 21-7.
“We knew they had some dynamic playmakers,” Caniford said. “The fact that we made them work as hard we did for that score allowed us to control the clock in the fourth quarter.”
That Marlin score took most of the third quarter to complete, but it closed the gap to 21-14. Clifton ran only five plays in the third quarter, one of which was a 34-yard run by Gutierrez to set up a critical score early in the fourth.
“He’s a great back,” Marlin coach Stephen Hodge said. “We’ve got pretty good speed on defense, and he used the cutback lanes to his advantage.”
Marlin quarterback Alik Brooks scored on a five-yard run to open the third quarter and get the Bulldogs back in game. Brooks threw for 110 yards and a touchdown in the second half, and finished the game with 141 yards rushing.
Clifton went up 28-14 with 8:56 left in the fourth quarter on a three-yard run by Mason Ochoa.
Brooks’ 30-yard touchdown at the 7:50 mark of the fourth quarter cut Clifton’s lead to 28-21. It came after a roughing the punter call on Clifton eliminated a fourth-and-21 situation for Marlin.
“He’s the general for us,” Hodge said of his senior quarterback. “The heart and soul of the offense. He never gave up … really played hard the entire game.”
Kody Fastnacht’s 56-yard kickoff return on the ensuing drive set Clifton up at the Marlin 39, and Gutierrez took over from there. With help from quarterbacks Hunter Kettler and Mason Brandenberger, the Cubs methodically marched to the Bulldog 1, and Gutierrez slammed it across from there for the decisive touchdown, his third of the night, to put Clifton up 35-21 with 2:45 left in the game.
Gutierrez capped his night with a 38-yard touchdown run, breaking several tackles along the way in what was clearly a possession designed to run the clock out.
The Cubs (8-2) outgained Marlin 269-89 in the first half, scoring three touchdowns on five possessions. The Cubs drove to Marlin’s 15 on the game’s opening possession before fumbling it away.
They cashed in their second possession with quarterback Hunter Kettler scoring from three yards out at the 8:09 mark of the first quarter.
Gutierrez did most of his first-half damage on Clifton’s final two first-half drives. He scored from 18 yards out with 4:51 left in the second quarter to make it 14-0, and then capped the half with a 1-yard run at the :05 mark of the second quarter. Guiterrez had runs of 14 and 20 yards to set up his cause on the final drive of the half.
Mason Brandenberger, who split time at quarterback with Kettler, had a 13-yard run on the final drive as well.
Gutierrez finished the first half with 140 yards on 18 carries.
Mason Ochoa scored on a three-yard run early the fourth quarter to put the Cubs up 28-14. Kettler finished with 31 yards passing, all in the first half.
Sophomore running back Sir Charleston Lee had 73 yards rushing on 13 carries for Marlin, which finished the season at 4-7.