MONAHANS — Sweet-water’s football team made the long trip to Monahans on Friday knowing it might face long odds of getting into the Class 3A playoffs without a victory.
They also knew they had to play better defense than what they have shown for most of this season.
After Friday’s 28-9 win, the Mustangs are undoubtedly feeling a lot better about that defense.
They also are probably feeling a lot better about their playoff chances, al-though there is still some work to do before that pos-sibility becomes reality.
The defense was simply dominant, which was hard-ly expected given what has happened so far. Coming into the game, Sweetwater was allowing just over 40 points a game and had given up a season-high 65 to Big Spring one week earlier at Mustang Bowl.
But Monahans (3-1) — which was the only unbeaten team in District 4-3A but fell into a three-way tie with Wylie and Big Spring — managed just one touchdown and its explosive offense failed to reach double digits against the inspired Mustangs.
Sweetwater (2-2 district, 4-5 overall) played well defensively from the start as Monahans went three-and-out and was forced to punt on its first two series, while gaining a total of just 14 yards.
However, the Loboes put together a scoring drive on their third possession, mov-ing 59 yards in six plays — all runs by Jacob Lair, who rushed for a game-high 155 yards. Lair scored from the 1, then added on the extra point for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
But even though Sweet-water trailed, the deficit did not last long. Isaiah McGee returned the kickoff to the Sweetwater 48, and it took just five plays for the Mus-tangs to tie the score at 7.
McGee was a big part of the touchdown drive as well, which he began with runs of 16 and 4 yards to get Sweetwater into Monahans territory. Two plays later, he caught a 34-yard pass from quarterback Kaegan Jeffrey to give the Mustangs first-and-goal at the 2.
From there, Jeffrey threw to Bray Amos for the touchdown and Michael Hunt’s kick made it 7-7 with 11:22 left in the second quarter.
More Sweetwater defense would soon follow.
A personal foul penalty on the Mustangs gave Mon-ahans a first down at the Sweetwater 38, but Loboes quarterback Hassan Walker was intercepted by Dylan Bennett on the next play.
Monahans was on the move again after forcing a Sweetwater punt, moving from its 29 to the Mustang 23-yard line after a 15-yard run by Walker. But then the Mustangs literally stole the momentum back.
Defensive lineman Cory Mendez, in a play similar to what McGee had done against Big Spring a week earlier, stripped Lobo running back Nicko Jasso of the ball and returned the fumble 81 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, Sweetwater was ahead 14-7 with 5:37 left until halftime.
The defense preserved that 14-7 lead at halftime, stopping Lair a yard short on a fourth-and-three run from Sweetwater’s 41.
In the third quarter, it was Monahans’ turn to get a big play from its defense. The Loboes pinned the Mustangs at their 2 after a 57-yard punt, then came up with a safety to cut the lead to 14-9 after tackling a runner in the end zone.
Monahans got the ball back due to the safety, but failed to take further advantage and had to punt it back to Sweetwater, which again started deep in its own ter-ritory.
But this time, the Mus-tangs got their offense rolling again — and opened up a 21-9 advantage — with one of their longest scoring drives of the year.
A 27-yard Jeffrey completion to Kaleb Hoover on third-and-13 from Sweetwa-ter’s 17 allowed the drive to continue, as did two Jeffrey first-down runs. Monahans was flagged for pass inter-ference on another third-and-13 play, setting up a 26-yard touchdown run by McGee that completed the 12-play, 92-yard drive and came with 1:49 remaining in the third quarter.
Once again, the Mustang defense bent but refused to break on Monahans’ next possession. The Loboes got to Sweetwater’s 22 on the final play of the quarter, but Walker was stopped for a 2-yard loss and then threw an incomplete pass on fourth down to give the ball back to the Mustangs.
Sweetwater then tightened its grip on the game with another excellent scoring drive, moving 76 yards in 11 plays to open a 28-9 lead with 6:01 to play.
The Mustangs immediately overcame a holding penalty with a 21-yard Jeffrey pass completion to Michael McCoy.
Jeffrey then began dialing his own number with great success, gaining 10, 14 and 14 yards on consecutive runs to move Sweetwater into scoring range.
The Mustangs were facing fourth-and-9 from the Loboes’ 21 when Jeffrey hit McCoy again, this time for 14 yards to the 7.
From there, Amos — the dynamic junior receiver who on Friday had just 16 yards on his five catches — nevertheless caught his second touchdown pass of the game.
There was still time for one more heroic defensive stand by Sweetwater.
Monahans managed to overcome third-and-15 with a 17-yard Walker comple-tion to Junior Morales — his first completed pass of the game after eight misses and an interception.
But the Mustangs rose up to stop the Loboes again. First, Bennett broke up a long pass on third-and-16, and a 15-yard completion to Austin Montez on fourth down was just short.
Sweetwater hosts Wylie this Friday to end the regu-lar season. Wylie clinched a playoff berth by beating Snyder (1-3) on Friday. If Sweetwater and Snyder both finish 2-3, the Tigers will get the last playoff spot by virtue of their 41-14 vic-tory over the Mustangs.