For most local football observers, the jury is still out on just how good this year’s Sweetwater team is after the Mustangs’ 10-0 victory over Vernon in their season opener.
The defense had a shutout for the first time in the Craig Slaughter era and the kicking game was rock solid with Tadeo Canon-Masjoan nailing his kickoffs deep, as well as kicking a 32-yard field goal and his only extra point attempt. The latter came after Ryan Linebaugh scored Sweetwater’s only touchdown on a 1-yard run in the second period.
Linebaugh and quarter-back Taylor Jones led a run game that finished with 169 yards, and Jones also com-pleted 6 of 10 passes for 82 yards to four different Sweetwater receivers.
Linebaugh’s TD capped a 69-yard drive that ate up over seven minutes. But two Mustang drives were stalled by interceptions, including one in the end zone that prevented Sweetwater from scoring on its opening possession, and the Mustangs spent much of the second half, including nearly all of the fourth quarter, with poor field position deep on its end of the field after the defense came up with back-to-back heroic stands after Vernon twice got inside the Mustangs’ 10-yard line only to be denied points.
Now Sweetwater takes on a much stronger opponent Friday. It will host ninth-ranked Monahans, which was a 23-20 winner over then-No. 10 Snyder in its opener. Kicker Alejandro Mendoza nailed a 26-yard field goal to win the game with five seconds left.
To defeat the Loboes, the Mustangs must establish their offense and be able to move the ball early, Slaughter said. “It’s very important that we make first downs,” he said, “and not let our defense get worn down. We need to have some seven-minute drives and take care of the ball.
“And we need to win the turnover battle.”
Monahans’ defense held Snyder to under 300 yards and led most of the second half. The winning field goal was set up by Byron Scharf’s 31-yard run. Scharf, the team’s fullback, finished the night with 170 yards rushing on 23 carries and got plenty of help from fellow running back Pedro Cano, who racked up 146 yards and scored a pair of touch-downs for the Loboes.
Monahans is as physical as anyone Sweetwater will play this year and the Mus-tangs must be able to match it, Slaughter said. “They’ll be running downhill at us and we have to do the same. They’ll be totally different from Vernon,” he said.
Monahans won 35-7 last year when the teams met in Monahans, forcing three turnovers and striking for a pair of touchdowns late in the first half to break open a tight game. Monahans also had three of its touchdowns passing the ball, but stop-ping the run will be the key this Friday, Slaughter said.
Linebaugh, who finished with 22 carries in the Ver-non game and gained 55 yards, may get more help this week and that could help him break a few more long runs, Slaughter said.
“(Monahans) does things the way that we want to do it. This will be a chance for us to step up,” the head coach added. “I think the atmosphere will be extra charged up. This will be a measuring stick for us.”