WAXAHACHIE — Gunter's quick strike offense scored two second quarter touchdowns in just over three minutes, allowing the Tigers to use their strong defense to claw their way past Clifton, 27-14, in a Class 3A Division II Region II area round playoff game at Lumpkins Stadium.
Gunter (11-1) moves on to play Rogers (11-1), in a region semifinal contest at 2 p.m. on Friday at Corsicana. Rogers, which is in the third round for the first time since 2014, is led by former Gunter offensive coordinator Charlie Roten, who took over at Rogers after the Tigers won the Class 3A Division II state championship in 2016.
This is the first time in program history Gunter has made the third round of the playoffs for four straight seasons. It is also the fourth straight season with at least 11 victories, also a school record for the three-time defending region champions.
Tigers running back Peyton Lowe hauled a touchdown pass of 38 and then added a 50-yard TD run to break a seven-all tie, giving the Tigers a 20-7 lead.
It could have been worse for Clifton as the Tigers recovered the ensuing kickoff at the Cubs 35-yard line after it was muffed but the possession went nowhere and Gunter was forced to punt.
With 32 seconds remaining in the quarter, Lowe caught his third touchdown pass — an eight-yarder from Hudson Graham — giving the Tigers a three-score lead at the break.
Lowe finished with the two scoring catches for 46 yards and 12 carries for 112 yards and a score to go with a pair of interceptions on defense.
“We got the job done,” Graham said. “Leadership from the seniors really helped.”
Graham threw for 57 yards and three touchdowns on 5-of-8 passing. He threw one interception.
The Tigers took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Bryson Rigsby dove over the pile from the one-yard line.
Clifton (8-4) tied the score early in the second quarter when wide receiver T.J. Ferch capped a 13-play, six-minute drive by hauling in a nine-yard touchdown pass from Mason Brandenberger. The Cubs had to convert a fourth down to set up first and goal.
Ferch led Clifton with 10 catches for 195 yards. He also scored the lone second half-touchdown for either team, getting free on a fourth-and-11 play to grab a 21-yard touchdown pass from Brandenberger with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter. The Clifton quarterback finished with 246 yards passing by completing 16-of-30 attempts.
“We definitely started the game well and got up first,” Gunter head coach Jake Feiszel said. “Clifton fought hard. We had to scrap and claw and won a big game against a tough opponent.”
The Cubs had the football most of the second half, but Gunter's defense stopped them on fourth down or forced a turnover.
The Tigers were held scoreless thanks to a couple turnovers themselves, including a fumble at the end of the third quarter when Clifton recovered at its 32-yard line.
With 2:30 left in the game, Ethan Sloan broke up a fourth-down pass at the edge of the end zone but Gunter couldn't run out out the clock.
During the Cubs' final drive and chance to get within a touchdown, Lowe intercepted a Brandenberger pass at the goal line and ran it back to midfield to seal the victory.
Tigers running back Clayton Reed finished with 107 yards on 15 carries, including a 33-yard run during the drive that gave Gunter the lead for good early in the second quarter.