GREENWOOD — Once again, Sweetwater got off to a slow start in Friday’s non-district game at Midland Greenwood. But this time, the Mustangs’ comeback — make that comebacks — were not enough.
Greenwood twice built 14-point leads with the help of six Sweetwater turnovers. Then the Rangers (3-2) held on for dear life to survive a thrilling fourth-quarter rally by the Mustangs for a 28-26 victory.
It was an especially tough loss for Sweetwater (3-2), which exploded big plays all over the field — primarily through the air — and nearly forced overtime with an almost miraculous finish.
But the Mustangs simply made too many mistakes to pull it off, despite a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taylor Jones to receiver Willie Norman that pulled Sweetwater within two points on the game’s final play of regulation.
However, Jones — who would finish the game with a career-high 346 yards on 23-of-36 passing — needed to complete one more pass to force an extra period and his two-point attempt was tipped away as the game came to a heartbreaking end for Sweetwater.
But what a fourth-quarter comeback it was; very nearly one for the ages.
Greenwood went ahead 28-14 by cashing in on Sweetwater’s third lost fum-ble to score on a 14-yard run by quarterback Kam Wil-liams with 9:36 remaining.
But Sweetwater cut it to 28-20 by moving 72 yards in just six plays, capped by fullback Sam Nemir’s 42-yard touchdown run with 7:54 left in the game. The extra point kick failed, but Sweetwater got it back after forcing a three-and-out. The Mustangs, however, appeared out of chances after driving from their 16 to Greenwood’s 20, only to be denied when Jones’ pass was tipped and then intercepted near the end zone by Timmy Murphy with only 1:16 to play in the contest.
But Jones would, as it turned out, get another chance to redeem himself as Sweetwater’s defense was up to the challenge by again forcing a three-and-out. Greenwood’s Trey Cave was stopped for a one-yard loss on a third-and-1 run from his 15, and Sweetwater got it back with 43 seconds left at its 49-yard line. Jones quickly went back to work, completing passes of 13 and 11 yards to Kaleb Hoover and then connecting with Parker Scott on a 14-yard throw to the 13. Jones then spiked it with :05 left, giv-ing Sweetwater just enough time for Jones to complete the desperate drive. He took the snap and found Norman in the back of the end zone as time expired. But the earlier missed kick forced a try for two, and the ending was not what Sweetwater had hoped for.
Thanks to turnovers, the Mustangs lost despite a huge 541-324 edge in total yardage. The miscues began early, as the first fumble led to a 36-yard Williams TD pass to Hunter Rose with 8:55 left in the first quarter.
A fumbled punt then set the stage for more points, with Williams connecting on a 21-yard pass to Colin Sullivan to make it 14-0 ith 2:35 left in the first period.
Greenwood, however, was unable to take advantage of another turnover and was forced to punt. This time, Sweetwater finally avoided mistakes and cut the lead to 14-7 when Jones found Nick Nemir for a 55-yard touchdown pass. The Mustangs then overcame two penal-ties to score again on their next series and tie it. Ryan Linebaugh ran it over from the 3, and Tadeo Canon-Masjoan made it 14-14 with the PAT. With the half coming to a close, Sweetwater missed a chance to go ahead as an interception near the end zone killed the threat.
In the third quarter, the woes continued. A short punt gave Greenwood the ball at Sweetwater’s 28 and led to a 1-yard Williams run and a 21-14 lead. Then the Rangers upped it to 28-14 after recovering a fumble at the end of a 22-yard Jones run to Greenwood’s 48.
While there were a lot of positive things offensively, coach Craig Slaughter ad-mitted the mistakes were simply too much for the Mustangs to overcome, es-pecially since Greenwood did not turn the ball over. “We’ve just got to stop the turnovers,” he said. “But being in a game like this will help us down the line. It doesn’t get more intense than it was tonight.”