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The stakes arenâ€™t as high as they were a few years ago when they met regularly in the playoffs, but Fridayâ€™s 7:30 p.m. season opener at Mustang Bowl will still be a big deal to both Sweetwater and Vernon.
The two perennial foot-ball powers have fallen on hard times of late, so a victory will give hope for better things to come this season.
And for Sweetwater, real improvement seems to be a definite possibility based on the way coach Craig Slaugh-terâ€™s charges performed in their two scrimmages with Lubbock Cooper and San Angelo Lake View â€” the first an extremely competitive 1-1 draw against a highly-regarded foe, and the second a dominating win over a Class 4A team.
Thereâ€™s also an additional confidence factor: having a number of returning players who saw action a year ago when Sweetwater began its 2010 season with a 27-13 victory at Vernon.
That helped to propel a three-game improvement in Slaughterâ€™s second year at the helm to a near break-even 4-6 campaign, while the Lions finished 0-10.
Slaughter said Vernon is where Sweetwater was at this time last year â€” trying to rebuild and learn a new system under a coach beginning his second year. In the Lionsâ€™ case, they are still trying to master the spread offense under Andy Correll after running the Wing-T for years. That means that the Mustangs could have a advantage Friday, although Slaughter expects Vernon to be much improved.
At any rate, his players are ready for the big show to begin. â€śWeâ€™re really excited,â€ť Slaughter said.
â€śWe had some real positives in our last scrimmage. We feel like weâ€™re on a good path and are looking to get this thing rolling. We feel like this can be a great start for us even though weâ€™ve got bigger games to come.â€ť
There will still be several new starters on the field Friday, though, and a few returning starters in new positions. But â€śweâ€™ve got the kids where we think they have a chance to help us the most,â€ť Slaughter said.
For the third straight season, the offense will be led by quarterback Taylor Jones, who ran for two touchdowns and passed for one in last yearâ€™s contest.
Jones, Nick Nemir and Ryan Linebaugh all had a rushing TD last week against Lake View as the Mustangs ran for 271 of their 322 yards in the scrimmage, and Sweetwater also got a booming 37-yard field goal from its newest player, kicker Tadeo Canon-Masjoan. The defense, meanwhile, shut out Lake View during the two â€śliveâ€ť quarters that the teams played and gave up just 140 total yards.
Sweetwater needs another good showing to help get ready for next weekâ€™s showdown with a very good Monahans team at the an-nual Sammy Baugh Classic.
Sweetwaterâ€™s JV teams begin their regular seasons today at Vernon at 5 and 6:30 p.m., respectively. Both teams also faced Lake View last Friday, with the White team winning 4-0. Hayden Reeves threw TD passes of 22 yards to Deandre Gatson and 20 yards to Daven Alvarez. Also, T.C. Huitt scored on a 40-yard run and Kaegan Jeffrey threw a 6-yard TD pass to Bray Amos. Other standouts were Angel Caballero on offense and Martes Harris, Xavier Jones, Isaiah McGee and Jordan Putnam on defense. The Red team lost 3-1, with Zack Carrasco getting the TD. Other standouts were Kris Duran, Trey Harvey, Kevin Thompson, Jonathan Neri, Marc Ruiz, Chris Hill and Austin Watts.