ABILENE — Sweetwater picked a good time — Fri-day’s District 5-3A opener at Wylie — to play its best game of the 2011 season.
Unfortunately, the Mus-tangs still weren’t too happy at the end. That’s because the Bulldogs were still able to pull out a 20-15 victory despite running 31 fewer plays than Sweetwater.
And that wasn’t the only statistic the Mustangs led in. Coach Craig Slaughter’s club racked up 11 more first downs (21-10) and 47 more yards (322-275) in the con-test than Wylie and had just one turnover, the same as the Bulldogs.
But for all those achieve-ments, Sweetwater fell short of Wylie in one key area — converting crucial big plays in the second half that led to a close win on the scoreboard.
The Bulldogs (4-3, 1-0) rallied from a 9-7 halftime deficit thanks to a 64-yard touchdown run by Zerrie Mack, and finally on fourth-quarter runs of 74 and 20 yards by Garrett Martin on their final scoring drive to take a 20-9 lead with 9:23 to play. Sweetwater rallied, scoring on Ryan Linebaugh’s 2-yard run with 1:44 to play to cut Wylie’s lead to 20-15, but a last-ditch onsides kick attempt proved to be unsuc-cessful and Wylie held on for the victory.
Sweetwater, which is now 3-4 overall and 0-1 in dis-trict, had two other scoring chances against Wylie in the fourth period before Linebaugh’s touchdown run but couldn’t capitalize either time. A drive which reached the Bulldog 37 ended with an interception, and a field goal miss ended a drive that reached the 21.
Sweetwater still had time to pull out a victory, though, after the defense limited the Bulldogs to one first down and the Mustangs took over at their 45 with 3:14 to play and the strong south wind at their backs.
Quarterback Taylor Jones used his passing and run-ning talents to fuel the drive as the Mustangs moved 55 yards in 11 plays to score the touchdown, but Linebaugh was stopped just short on an attempted 2-point run. By then Sweetwater was out of timeouts and after the failed onsides kick, Wylie was able to run out the clock.
Tadeo Canon-Masjoan’s 47-yard field goal on the final play of the first half gave Sweetwater a 9-7 lead, atoning for his missed PAT after the Mustangs’ initial touchdown in the first quarter to go ahead 6-0.
Linebacker Alex Garcia’s interception allowed Sweet-water to start the scoring drive from the Bulldogs’ 10 and the Mustangs got the score when Jones connected with Gabriel Medellin on an 8-yard TD. But Wylie countered, getting a 41-yard run by Martin to Sweetwater’s 10, and took its first lead, 7-6, on a 3-yard pass by quarterback Matt McLeod to Cole Townsend at the 3:05 mark of the first period followed by the extra point.
After punting on their next two series, the Mus-tangs got into position for Canon-Masjoan’s 47-yard field goal to regain the lead.
First-down passes to Linebaugh and Medellin got Sweetwater in range as the clock ran down, and Canon-Masjoan had plenty of leg on the kick, which was his longest of the season.
In the end, though, Wylie was just a little more opportunistic as the Bulldogs won the second half 13-6 and now share the early disrict lead with Brownwood. The Lions defeated Big Spring — which comes to Sweetwater this Friday — 38-7, leaving the Steers with an 0-7 record for the season.
With a mere three games left to play, the Mustangs are almost in a must-win situation already. A victory on Friday could have avoi-ded that.
“We bottled (Wylie) up pretty good overall except for the two long plays,” Slaughter said.
“But I was proud to death of the kids and for the fight they showed. There is no quit in them. They’re tough kids and I love them. We’ve just got to kick the door in and get a district win.”
After Big Spring, Sweet-water will travel to Snyder, which was idle this week, and end the season by hosting Brownwood.