For three quarters, Sweet-water looked like anything but an underdog Friday in its District 4-3A showdown with the Monahans Loboes, piling up a 35-14 advantage that could probably have been even larger.
But the Mustangs’ dream of taking a giant step tow-ard their first playoff berth in four years took a drastic turn in the fourth quarter and resulted in a nightmar-ish finish at Mustang Bowl.
Instead of a Sweetwater blowout, Monahans rose up to score 25 unanswered points and leave the Bowl with a stunning 39-35 win, clinching a postseason spot for the Loboes (5-4 overall, 3-1 in 4-3A).
Sweetwater — which is 4-5 overall, 2-2 in district — can still make the playoffs, but will need help even if the Mustangs upset first-place Wylie (9-0, 4-0) in Wylie this Friday to end the regular season.
Wylie and Monahans are guaranteed the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively. But Sweetwater can grab the final berth with a win if Snyder (1-3) also defeats Greenwood (2-2) this week. There is also the possibility of getting into a tiebreaker to decide the No. 3 spot with Snyder and Greenwood if Sweetwater loses to Wylie but Greenwood beats Sny-der, based on the district’s point system decided by the teams’ head-to-head results against each other.
Sweetwater beat Snyder 34-27 in its district opener, before losing to Greenwood 31-13 the following week.
Four of Sweetwater’s five home games this season were decided by 10 points or less. But it looked as if the Mustangs were on the way to another romp Friday after beating Big Spring 42-9 the previous week — until the pendulum sudden-ly began to swing in Mon-ahans’ favor while Sweet-water seemed to simply run out of gas.
And that’s what hap-pened, said coach Shane Mobley. “We just physical-ly got tired,” he said. “We got worn down. We hit them with everything we had. This was a big blow. If we could have held on, it would have been a different story. Physical conditioning was big tonight. But we fought hard, and I told them to keep their heads up.”
But Mobley gave credit to the Loboes. “Monahans is a good football team and they did what good football teams do,” he said. “They responded to what we did and they never panicked.”
Sweetwater’s task is now to find a way of getting over its disappointment and put-ting together the kind of effort against Wylie that the Mustangs have shown in seven of their last eight quarters of football.
Sweetwater scored on its opening possession for the second straight week, moving 66 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead, then fin-ally cashed in on a Monah-ans mistake to increase its lead to 14-0 over the Loboes in the second quarter on Kaleb Hoover’s second TD catch of the game with 7:07 left in the first half.
Sweetwater’s defense had limited Monahans to just two first downs up to that point, but the Loboes final-ly put together a scoring drive that covered 73 yards in nine plays and cut Sweet-water’s lead to 14-7.
It took just 27 seconds for Sweetwater to answer and regain a 14-point (21-7) edge. Kaegan Jeffrey hit Isaiah McGee for a 42-yard gain to Monahans’ 16, and Ryan Linebaugh ran it over from there with 3:34 left in the half. But that led to another quick strike. After getting it back, Monahans scored on a 63-yard run by Freddy Garcia on its first play after the kickoff, pul-ling the Loboes within just seven points again at 21-14 following the extra point.
What did Sweetwater do? It scored, of course, moving 76 yards in seven plays for a 28-14 lead at halftime.
A pass interference call on Monahans and a 30-yard Jeffrey pass to Willie Nor-man put Sweetwater at the Loboes’ 15. From there Bray Amos had two of his 13 receptions, including a 9-yarder for the score.
After forcing a quick punt by Monahans on a three-and-out to start the second half, the Mustangs were on the march again — scoring their fifth touchdown on a two-play drive to increase their lead to 35-14.
The first play was a 49-yard pass from Jeffrey to Norman (six catches, 147 yards) followed by a Jeffrey-to-Amos connection for 11 yards and the score. Tadeo Canon-Masjoan added his fifth extra point with 9:31 to play. Sweetwater was firmly in control. Only it wasn’t, even after Monahans’ fourth lost fumble and a late hit gave Sweetwater a chance to add to its lead after starting at the Loboes’ 31.
Monahans held this time, taking over at its 22 after an incomplete Sweetwater pass on fourth-and-1.
The teams exchanged punts as the third quarter headed to a close. However, Monahans then went 83 yards in 12 plays, scoring on QB Zack Navarro’s 6-yard run, to get within 35-21.
Sweetwater had to punt again on its next series, and Monahans wasted no time scoring after starting from Sweetwater’s 30 following a 23-yard punt return and a personal foul penalty.
Navarro immediately was able to find receiver Junior Morales over the middle for the touchdown, narrowing Sweetwater’s lead to 35-27 after a missed extra point.
Less than one minute of game time expired before Monahans scored again, after Sweetwater was again forced to punt, from its 5.
Garcia took the punt at Sweetwater’s 34 and ran it to the end zone, cutting the lead to two (35-33).
A two-point run to tie the game failed, but Monahans forced yet another punt by Sweetwater and started from its 43. After a 5-yard gain by Navarro, he handed off to Nicko Jasso who ran the last 52 yards to give his team a 39-35 lead with 4:32 left to play. It was the only time Monahans led in the game, but it held up.
McGee caught a 14-yard pass to keep the chains moving, but Monahans ended Sweetwater’s last drive with an interception.