Friday’s contest between traditional powers Clifton-Clyde and Victoria served as the personification of high school football. Two undefeated Eight-Man, Division I squads faced off on a windy night with constant mist.
The field turned soggy with deep mud tracks down the center. Marked by power running, the teams didn’t have a completed pass in the first half. Clifton-Clyde, led by a big night and late fourth-down scoring run from senior quarterback Aiden Rudolph, won 28-14.
“Grind-it-out, who is tougher,” Rudolph said. “We have been working all summer for this. Throughout school we have been lifting. Our whole football team has been putting in work for this season, and we knew that it would come out, and it would put us on top of one of these games, and tonight was the night.”
Victoria and C-C junior lineman Dillon Provost punctuated the contest with excellent displays of sportsmanship at the end of regulation and postgame.
“It was great,” Provost said. “I loved it. Field conditions weren’t very good. Started to rain here, and it was hard-fought battle. They are a great team. … I haven’t played a game this fun since Burlingame my freshman year.”
C-C faced a fourth-and-3 from midfield with 1 minute, 25 seconds left. After a timeout, the Eagles elected to try for the first down and not punt. This week, Clifton-Clyde put in an end round, a play it hadn’t ran for years under longtime coach Russ Steinbrock.
“We used to run it all the time back when I was like in sixth grade, coach Steinbrock ran it all the time up in high school,” Rudolph said. “So we just kept talking about putting it back in.”
Earlier in the game, C-C handed off twice to freshman Kameron Knox on the same play, which yielded a 10-yard touchdown run and a two-point conversion on the edge. Victoria called out Knox when he came onto the field for fourth down.
This time, Rudolph faked to Knox. Rudolph burst through and scored from 40 yards out for the game’s final points.
“Our tight end that we faked it to, he said he got tackled by like four or five guys,” Rudolph said. “Left two guys for me. I beat them both. We won as a team. We lose as a team, and we came out on top this time.”
After Rudolph’s run, Victoria had an offensive penalty. Knight coach Doug Oberle elected to kneel out the final plays.
“Very sportsmanlike,” Provost said. “It was very nice of coach Oberle to end it, knee it at the end.”
On the field, Provost stood alone a few yards outside the Knight postgame huddle. After Victoria finished the meeting, Provost walked over to Knight standout senior lineman Kirk Huser. The two shook hands and briefly talked. Provost said it was the first time he’d ever done that in his career.
“Great lineman,” Provost said. “Pleasure to play against him. It was a hard-fought battle, and I just wanted to thank him for letting me play against him.”
Both played solidly, most notably a three-play stretch by the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Huser in the fourth quarter. Huser stopped Rudolph twice for no gain, and ran across the field to sack Rudolph.
“He was the best lineman by far that we faced all year,” Rudolph said. “And Dillon Provost is our very best defensive tackle.”
Offensively, the 5-8, 205-pound Provost helped Rudolph, the only returning Eagle skill player, rush 27 times for 165 yards and three touchdowns. Steinbrock called C-C’s lines the team strength.
“Dillon’s an awesome kid,” Steinbrock said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good kids. I know Victoria has got a lot of good kids, a lot of good football players. Dillon’s a kid that he watches a lot of film, he studies the guys that he is going to be going up against, so I know he watched big (Huser) going into this week probably everyd ay and every night.
“He was kind of priding himself on trying to take care of a big kid, because that dude is big,” he added. “He’s 250 pounds. Dillon won some of the battles, and that big guy won some of the battles. It was a nice show of respect.”
Victoria, ranked fifth in Division I, dropped to 4-1, 1-1 in District 7. Clifton-Clyde improved to 5-0, 2-0.
“We talked to the guys about this was going to be a man’s game tonight,” Oberle said.
The Eagles ended the Knights’ 12-game home winning streak and defeated Victoria for the second straight year. C-C, 14-1 since the start of ’18, is in strong position for its second straight district title.
“They played extremely hard,” Oberle said. “When you play a team that plays as hard as Clifton does and the game is over, you have got to respect what they do and how they do it. They answered the bell every time tonight.”
Steinbrock, in his 19th season, has long used the single wing and power football. Last year, he went to a multiple formation set. This year, Steinbrock believed “there was no way” C-C was going to run power.
“We don’t have the skill guys,” Steinbrock said. “We don’t have the blocking backs, and we thought we were going to have spread.”
The Eagles used all of their spread looks at the preseason jamboree, a week before games started. Steinbrock said “none of it looked good.” C-C went back to its power look. The coaches believed they could use the power in its first three games, blowout shutout victories versus Wetmore, Valley Falls and Wilson.
However, the Eagles thought they couldn’t have the power run versus Hill City and Victoria in district play. Instead, C-C won 50-22 last week. Versus Victoria, all but 44 yards came on the ground.
“We are surprised,” Steinbrock said. “I think the kids have risen to the challenge, and they just pride themselves on being able to run that.”
Rudolph, a three-year starter, grew up watching the Eagle standout single wing quarterbacks such as Brayden Bloomfield and Caleb Gelino.
“You really don’t think about it when you are young,” Rudolph said. “Like, ‘Man, that could be me one day,’ but then as we slowly kept getting closer and closer through middle school, through our little Eagles thing, it was just neat. And then we have film back on them. I will go back and watch them, and just watch how patient some of those people were. It’s just really neat, and I base my game off them.”
Rudolph carried the ball on the Eagles’ first seven plays and 11 of the first 13. The 14th play yielded the end around score from Knox and 6-0 lead with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.
Victoria tied the game on a three-yard run from junior Jayvon Pruitt with 6:21 remaining in the first half. Rudolph countered with a 35-yard run and Knox’s conversion gave C-C a 14-6 lead at halftime.
Rudolph ended the first drive of the second half with a seven-yard touchdown run and a 22-6 lead. Victoria recovered a muffed Eagle punt but its drive stalled at the Eagle 12-yard line. A measurement showed Victoria just short of the marker.
“We were a few inches away, and they make the stop,” Oberle said. “Obviously a ton of credit to them. Coach Steinbrock does a great job, and just a real physical football team that played hard tonight.”
After another C-C punt, Pruitt scored on a three-yard run to draw the deficit to 22-14 with 9:41 left. Pruitt finished with 21 carries for 86 yards, and Victoria sophomore quarterback Grant Schoenrock had 18 carries for 91 yards.
Victoria had a chance to tie and faced 4th-and-5 from the CC 21-yard line with 3:24 remaining. Sophomore Tee Koch had 1-on-1 coverage on Victoria junior Drayden Karlin and broke up the pass.
“I thought we had them,” Oberle said.
Karlin outweighed Koch by 28 pounds. Five plays later, Rudolph effectively sealed the win with his fourth down run.
“That’s a guy who has got a lot of heart,” Steinbrock said of Koch. “Very tough, hard-nosed kid, and what he makes up in his speed, and maybe his size, he just makes up with his heart and his smarts, and that’s kind of what he did. He realized what his assignment was, and he made a good play for us.”