Outside of Clinton, few expected a close football game midway through Friday night’s tilt at Bettendorf.

In an encouraging showing, the River Kings hung around for nearly three quarters before the Bulldogs showed exactly why they’ll be hosting a playoff opener next week. Bettendorf used a late surge to cruise to a 44-13 win and finish the regular season 7-2.

“We just got focused in the locker room,” Bettendorf quarterback Cyle Cox said of the second-half awakening. “We communicated a lot about what we had to do, and we got it done.”

Cox finished with 240 yards of offense, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for two more. But a pressured second-quarter read led to a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown by Clinton’s Kristian Bahnsen.

So despite its defense allowing Clinton no first downs, negative-1 yard and a total of nine plays in the first half, Bettendorf led only 16-7 at intermission. Had Cox not slipped into the end zone in the final minute of the second quarter, the lead could have been even less.

Clinton (4-5), which will open its postseason on the road, played admirably and produced 141 more offensive yards in the second half. But the River Kings’ weary defense couldn’t keep up, eventually yielding 497 yards to the Bulldogs.

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“We’ve already told our kids to keep their heads up,” Clinton coach Lee Camp said. “We did some things really well tonight. We just didn’t do enough of them consistently.

“Defensively, we stepped up the first half, but we were running out of gas.”

Bettendorf proved uncharacteristically sloppy at times, getting hit with six penalties, twice fumbling and faltering on special teams. But coach Aaron Wiley’s hallmark defense turned the Kings over three times in the second half alone to put the offense in ideal field position.

“It’s just a matter of consistency,” Wiley said. “When we execute, we have some players that are weapons on our offense.

“But what I really really like is that our defense has improved every week, and that’s how you win in the playoffs.”

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