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The stakes arenât as high as they were a few years ago when they met regularly in the playoffs, but Fridayâs 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-terâs 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.
Thereâs 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 Slaughterâs 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. âWeâre really excited,â Slaughter said.
âWe had some real positives in our last scrimmage. We feel like weâre 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 weâve got bigger games to come.â
There will still be several new starters on the field Friday, though, and a few returning starters in new positions. But âweâve got the kids where we think they have a chance to help us the most,â 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 yearâs 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 âliveâ quarters that the teams played and gave up just 140 total yards.
Sweetwater needs another good showing to help get ready for next weekâs showdown with a very good Monahans team at the an-nual Sammy Baugh Classic.
Sweetwaterâs 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.