It wasn’t as easy as the final score might suggest, but the “drought” is over for Sweetwater. And so is a three-game losing streak.
Friday’s 28-6 win at Mus-tang Bowl over Big Spring was the first for Sweetwater since becoming a member of District 5-3A and finally halted a nine-game streak in district play that dated back just over two years.
It was also a win that Sweetwater (4-4 overall, 1-1 in district) realistically had to have in order to remain a playoff contender, especially with just two games left in the season and meetings with Snyder — the pre-district favorite — and Brownwood still ahead.
Friday’s contest was a scoreless defensive struggle for over 1 1/2 quarters until the Mustangs finally got the break they needed to start getting untracked.
It looked like Big Spring (0-8, 0-2) would score first after getting inside the Mus-tangs’ 40. But Nick Nemir intercepted a Steers pass and electrified the crowd with a 68-yard return for a touchdown, giving Sweet-water a 7-0 lead with 4:40 left in the half. It was still 7-0 at halftime thanks to yet another big defensive play, as Big Spring’s 28-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Dylon Adames, ending a drive that had reached the Sweetwater 11-yard line.
The Mustangs managed just six first downs and 117 yards in the first half, but started to get rolling with two third-quarter scores to make it 21-0. An interception by Big Spring quickly turned in Sweetwater’s favor thanks to a bad snap that lost 30 yards back to the 1, forcing the Steers to punt. Ryan Linebaugh then broke off a 50-yard run for a touchdown on Sweetwater’s third play for a 14-0 lead.
The Mustangs made it 21-0 in their favor after their defense forced another Big Spring punt. Linebaugh once again took the scoring honors, capping a 10-play drive by running it over from 2 yards out. His second TD of the game, and 10th of the year, came with :48 left in the third quarter.
Big Spring finally got on the board, cutting the lead to 21-6 after recovering a fumble at Sweetwater’s 41. The Steers scored on a 23-yard pass from Garrett Stuteville to Toby Rodgers with 6:00 left, but missed the extra point. Linebaugh nearly got two points after intercepting a 2-point pass attempt and returning it all the way, but the Mustangs were denied the points due to a penalty on the play.
Marquees Jenkins got Sweetwater’s final TD, scoring on a 9-yard run with 1:17 left, followed by Tadeo Canon-Masjoan’s fourth straight PAT. His kick also gave Sweetwater a season-high one-game point total.
A Big Spring fumble, which was caused by Anth-ony Palacios and recovered by Luis Gaxiola, led to the last score. The Steers were at their 14 when Stuteville was sacked and coughed it up at the 10.
Linebaugh just missed a 100-yard rushing game for Sweetwater, finishing with 99 yards on 12 carries, and was also one of many Mus-tang defensive standouts on Friday. Gaxiola had two tackles behind the line and Palacios, Mateo Gonzales, Linebaugh, Josh LaRue, Hunter Johnson and Kyle Lambert each had one tackle for a loss. Gaxiola also recorded two sacks and Palacios and Johnson one each for Sweetwater against the Steers, while LaRue also recovered a fumble. Nick Nemir became the second player to score following an interception this season when he found paydirt on his 68-yard return.
Sweetwater may need to play even better to beat Snyder, which improved to 6-1 — and 1-0 in district — by knocking off defending 5-3A champion Brownwood on Friday. After going to Snyder, Sweetwater ends its year by hosting the Lions.