Narrow win helpful to Mustangs

Ron Howell
Sports Editor

Sweetwater’s 32-28 area playoff victory on Friday over Vernon accomplished a number of positive things for the Mustangs.
First and foremost — of course — the team moves on to the third round where it faces Graham at 7 p.m. this Friday at Abilene Christian University’s new stadium.
But it also proved to the team, and skeptics, that it can (1) win a close game; and (2) beat a team with an effective smashmouth, ground-based offense able to limit possessions for an explosive, high-powered offense like Sweetwater’s.
The Mustangs’ first nine victories this season were all by at least 25 points, and only Pecos kept things seriously competitive after the first half before losing 63-30.
But the team’s losses to both Seminole and Monahans were winnable, especially the 28-27 loss to the Indians in overtime. Both those teams, like Vernon, were able to keep the ball away from Sweetwater with solid run games that gobbled up clock time.
Friday’s close win over Vernon definitely had some serious flaws. However, after a Vernon two-point return of a blocked PAT kick increased its lead to 28-20 with 2:57 left in the third quarter, the Lions — who had not trailed up to that point — did not score again. Sweetwater’s first and only lead came on a 20-yard touchdown run by Daniel Avila with 4:26 to play, and the Mustangs made the necessary stops on defense, including the final play of the game, to finally close out the win.
“It was a gutsy effort,” said Sweetwater head coach Ben McGehee. “The kids didn’t play their best but we played our tails off. Vernon did a great job with what they wanted to do. They had a good offensive line and their quarterback was able to extend a lot of plays with his feet and made some of our guys miss. Now we’ll go in (after the game) and try to get better.”
“We went back to our base defense,” said the team’s defensive coordinator Dexter Knox. “In the first half we weren’t as focused as we needed to be.”
“We went through a lot of adversity,” said Avila, who scored three touchdowns. “We made some defensive adjustments at halftime and we came out and pounded the ball (on offense). The offensive line was great tonight. They worked their butts off.”
It’s hard to believe that Sweetwater’s opponent won just one district game and was the fourth-place team in District 3-4A, Division II this season. Vernon was coming off a 42-28 first-round upset of 9-1 Glen Rose, running for 369 yards in the contest. Also, the Lions averaged 43 points in their last three games after losing to Graham 63-12 back on Nov. 3 to fall to 0-3 in district play.
The Mustangs will have to bring their ‘A’ game against Graham, which is 12-0 and hasn’t been seriously tested since September after two close calls in the first month of the season against Brownwood (54-49) and Wichita Falls Hirschi (42-35). Hirschi is still alive in the Class 4A, D-I playoffs as is Stephenville, which lost to Graham 30-14 back on Sept. 29.
If Sweetwater is able to get past Graham, it could set up a state quarterfinal rematch against Seminole for the second straight season. Like Sweetwater, the Indians survived a nail-biter in the area round as they held off Iowa Park 29-27 when a two-point run failed after the Hawks’ last score, which came with 59 seconds to play. Seminole held a 29-7 lead at halftime but nearly squandered in the last two periods.