By RICK & CHRIS YEARICK
• Leader & Times
With a need for a year of redemption, Coach Scripsick intended to start the Mustang football season with a plucking of the Sublette Larks. The birds could not be brought down however even with stable play from the senior ridden Southwestern Heights team. The Larks barely trumped the Mustangs with a 21-20 victory at the Mustang Pasture on Friday night.
Like a flash of lightning, junior Ben Johnsrud returned the opening kick-off for a seventy-yard return to propel the team early 6-0. The freshman Hugo Reveles extra point gave the Mustangs the 7-0 lead. The overflowing reunited Mustang crowd cheered and talked of the impressive immense preseason work of the Mustangs. The Mustangs were seen on the Trail of Fears hiking to Meade Lake and back and were seen in the locker room consistently building muscle and strength that they wanted to use to their advantage.
The Mustang defense squelched the run of the Larks for most of the night.. Sublette's first drive ended with a showing of the substantial defense with a third down sack for a six yard loss by senior Dillan Tracy. The Larks resorted to the air on a fourth down attempt, the Mustangs held strong and forced the turnover on downs.
The Mustangs first official drive of the night didn't result in as much fanfare as the exciting kickoff return as the Larks forced the Mustangs on a three and out. With a shanked punt, the Larks were able to set up their nest at the Mustang 48 yard line, and within three plays, Sublette was able to close the gap 7-7 with the PAT at 4:25 in the first quarter.
With a nice ten yard return, the Mustangs started their second possession on the Lark 39. Out of the gate, junior Rogelio Martinez bolted for a 13 yard gain. On the next three plays, Johnsrud became the workhorse with consistent short yard gains of 3, 1, 6, and 1 yard gains, After the short yard gains, Johnsrud broke out of the corral for a 44 yard slashing touchdown to propel the Mustangs to a 14-7 first quarter lead.
The Larks sustained a drive to open the second quarter with a series of runs and passes to enter the Mustang redzone. A penalty forced the Larks to go for it on fourth and 15. Senior Jr. Herrera batted down the potential touchdown pass to squelch the Lark attempt and force a turnover on downs.
With the Mustangs starting at the 15, they showed some nice gains, but a sack on third and short led to a punting situation. The Larks luck blocked a punt and within one play, they scored a touchdown to dissolve the strong Mustang lead 14-13 with a failed PAT.
With the ensuing kickoff, the Mustangs fumbled the return and gave the Larks a golden opportunity at the SWH 38 yard line. The Larks first play results in a fumble with that set up the Mustangs on their own 1 yard line. With the Mustangs in the shadow of their own endzone. Mustang Martinez ran hard for a 25 yard gain. The drived was halted by a holding penalty which forced the Mustangs to punt.
The Larks were able to strike quickly and within two plays and sailed a 42 yard touchdown pass and with a two point conversion take the lead and end the half 14-21.
Starting the second half, the Mustangs received the ball with little success and went three and out. The next two series from each team were uneventful. The Larks suffered a blocked punt and was caught in midair by Mustang Martinez who took the gifted opportunity 47 yards into the endzone for potential tie. With a failed PAT, the Mustangs trailed 20-21.Both defenses dug in their heals for the remainder to end the third quarter.
With both teams battling for field position in the fourth quarter with a series of unsuccessful drives and with time a factor, the SWH defense was able to hold the Larks and forced a punt to set them up for a potential game-winning possession on their side of the field. The Mustangs tried to put a drive together. Senior Jeffrey Dutton showed incredilbe leadership of the Pony Express and started a drive at their 37 yard line. With the ball moved Into scoring position, the Mustangs took the ball into the endzone only to be returned for a holding penalty forcing a fourth and goal. The Mustangs faced a desperation pass and were forced to go for gold with a sailing attempt close to the endzone.
Faltering, the Mustangs had to give the ball back to the Larks with a minute left in the competition. The Larks then executed the favorite play in football taking a knee with less than a minute left to end the game on top 21-20.
Even though the Mustangs fell short, second-year Southwestern Heights Coach Matt Scripsick was proud of his hardworking team for stopping the Lark offense when needed and picking up a key fourth and one to keep the potential game-winning drive alive. Scripsick commented, "This loss will hurt, but I know the boys will bounce back." Look for the Mustangs to be competitive this season when they next travel to Elkhart Friday night for a league match up.