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Defending Class 4A champion Clinton locks down playoff spot with beatdown of Cache

Red Tornadoes score a combined 75 points over last two games to claim postseason berth

By Collin Wieder 

CLINTON - Class 4A’s defending state champion proved it's deserving of a 2022 playoff spot, as the Clinton Red Tornadoes romped past Cache, 35-7, Friday night at home. 

Two weeks ago, the Reds (5-3 overall, 3-2 District 4A-1) were 1-2 in district after suffering back-to-back losses to I-40 rivals Elk City and Weatherford. CHS was fighting for its playoff life just one year removed from winning a state title.

The response was to outscore its next two opponents by a combined score of 75-14, clinching a postseason slot, while also putting itself in prime position to possibly finish second in the district.

It’s a resounding, massive turnaround, and Clinton coach John Higbee said the 180-degree turn says a lot about his squad.

“It speaks to their character and the program’s rich history,” Higbee said after the win. “It’s people not wanting to let one another down, the team down, the town down and the people that came before them down.

"They’ve got a lot of character and that speaks to it.”

The Reds racked up more than 250 yards on the ground, including 118 and three touchdowns from senior fullback Trey Bennett, and forced six turnovers in their trouncing of the Bulldogs.

Clinton made its statement early. After forcing a punt on Cache’s opening drive, the Reds went on a 13-play, 67-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard Bennett TD run.

Just like much of the night, the drive wasn’t led by big plays but by grinding out extra yards and executing over and over again.

With that said, junior quarterback Cooper Sulley (5-of-13 passing, 66 yards, two TDs, 42 rushing yards) did come up clutch with a pair of big third-down conversions.

He first hit Zaedon Collins on a delayed arrow route for a first down past midfield. Sulley then ran the same play, but read the defender sagging off to cover Collins and rushed for a 20-yard gain to convert another third down, helping set up Bennett’s score.

Up 7-0 late in the first quarter, Clinton got on roll that put Cache completely away. A fumbled pitch on the ensuing possession was recovered by Clinton senior cornerback Nicholas O’Neale at the Bulldogs’ 33, and Bennett notched his second score of the night off a split back sweep pitch for a 14-yard TD.

Good fortune struck again for Clinton. Cache fumbled the ensuing kickoff return right into the hands of who else but O’Neale.

Then, Sulley tossed up a nice fade route to classmate Jeremiah Barker, and he hauled in a 31-yard scoring toss to give the Reds two scores in 17 seconds and a 21-0, second-quarter advantage.

After a brief offensive lull, Clinton capitalized on a short field once again. Senior cornerback DeAndrae Fanshier jumped in front of a Tyler Harbin misfire and returned the interception inside of Cache’s 20.

Sulley added to his passing TD total, tossing a nice jump ball to the back of the end zone for an 11-yard score to Javion Hill. Clinton led 28-0 at the half, but wasn’t finished yet.

Cache appeared to show some life on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Harbin connecting with Gabe Diaz for a 20-yard score midway through the third. The small creak in the doorway opened more when the Reds botched the kickoff return out of bounds at its own one-inch line.

Unfazed, Clinton’s offense hammered out an unreal, 22-play, 99-yard drive that took off more than 10 minutes of game clock to seal up the win for good. Multiple Clinton runners converted third downs time and time again, headlined by Bennett’s tough-as-nails, inside running.

The drive notched eight first downs, ending with the senior fullback’s third TD run of the night and a 35-7 Clinton lead.

“We had several backs run really hard,” Higbee said. “Obviously, Trey is an animal. As a matter of fact, their head coach (Faron Griffin) came over and said, ’15 is one heck of a football player.’

"He’s a pretty good player, but we had some other backs run well too, which I was happy with that.”

Clinton’s defense held Cache to less than 170 yards of offense. O’Neale logged his two takeaways. Fanshier picked off two passes, Caleb Edwards came up with a red-zone interception and Barker picked off a pass as well.

It was a total team effort in the win. The Reds never let the Bulldogs’ motion-read offense get going. The outside sweep plays were contained, and the dive fullback run was stifled, forcing Cache into uncomfortably high passing attempts.

O’Neale said it felt good to capture a win this big with their backs against the wall.

“It feels good for sure,” he said. “As you can tell from watching the game, we have a lot of things to go fix.

"We’re probably not even halfway to where we were last year, but we’re still the same team.”

The Reds return to action at 7 p.m. next Friday night at home for their season finale against Woodward (1-8, 0-5). A win there of eight or more points and a Chickasha (6-3, 3-2) win at Cache would elevate Clinton to the second seed in 4A-1.

Clinton, Chickasha and Weatherford would all be 4-2 in district with that scenario. The decider in that case is district margin points.

Weatherford (5-4, 4-2) is locked in with plus-35, while Clinton has plus-28 and Chickasha has plus-14.