By Delton Wilhite
The Crane Golden Cranes anxiously awaited the Mules in Denver City ISD’s Mustang Stadium Friday night. The Cranes had delivered the Mules’ head coach, David Wood, his first Texas State Playoff loss and were ready to deliver another.
The Crane starting line averaged 242 pounds. The Golden Cranes favorite play is the Hammer Play that the Mules have used for many years. The blocking back leading the play weighed in at 194, and the speedy running back was only 157 pounds.
The Cranes have 60 different formations and can run the Hammer out of almost all of them.
But the Mules had a surprise for the Cranes, two sophomores from the Mule JV team stepped into key spots of the Mule defensive line to add a bit of size to the Mule defense. The front four for the Mules averaged 250 pounds.
That helped keep the heat off the Mule linebackers and left them free to slow down the Crane powerful running attack.
The Mules trailed 22-21 at the intermission. But the resilient Mule defense shut out the Cranes in the final period. The Mule offense scored twice to in the final period to put the Mules on top to stay at 35-29.
The Mules drove 75 yards after the opening kickoff by the Cranes sailed through the Mule end zone. Mikey Lozano capped the opening Mule drive with a three-yard run. The Cranes were flagged for being offside on the first extra-point try.
The Mules again lined up to kick the extra point, but Yoel Reyes took the snap and powered up the middle for a two-point conversion. The Mules led 8-0 with 8:42 remaining in the opening period.
Crane answered with 4:17 left in the opening quarter and tied the game at 8-8.
Crane blocked a Muleshoe punt attempt, and the ball rolled into the Mule end zone where it was recovered by the Cranes 45 seconds into the second quarter. The PAT was good, and the Cranes led the Mules 15-8.
But the Mules did not allow the miscue to slow them down and battled back with Lozano scoring his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard run. Brady Martinez booted the point after to tie the game 15-15 with almost nine minutes remaining in the first half.
The Mule defense stopped the Cranes, and the Mules were on the move. Luke Del Toro connected with Romeo Reyes in the end zone from four-yards out to put the Mules up 21-15 with just over two minutes left in the first half.
But the Cranes did not go away, and on fourth down and long, scored on a 27-yard pass and run to take a 22-21 lead with 11 seconds left in the first half.
That final play of the first half seemed to be the spark that ignited the Mule defense for the second half.
Neither team could mount a scoring drive in the third period until the Cranes scored for their final time on a seven-yard run with 1:16 left in the third period. The Cranes had the Mules down 29-21 with just over thirteen minutes left in one of the teams’ season.
The Mules were determined they would play another week as Del Toro found Y. Reyes open and airmailed him the ball for a 32-yard touchdown. The Mules went for the two-point conversion to tie the game, but the attempt failed. The Mules had cut the Crane lead to 29-27 with 6:54 left in the game.
The Mule defense again forced the Cranes to punt on fourth down.
The Mules chewed time off the clock and marched into a stiff southwest wind toward the Crane end zone. Lozano powered over from one-yard out to put the Mules up to stay. But to force the Cranes to score a touchdown to tie the game, the Mules went for two points.
Del Toro floated a pass to Jacob Kettner in the end zone for the two-point conversion. The extra points put the Mules up 35-29 with 2:20 left.
The Cranes rolled out their passing attack and began to move down the field with the wind to their back. Y. Reyes dropped back like a centerfielder and when the wind carried the ball over the reach of the intended Crane receiver Y. Reyes leaped high into the air to rip the ball out of the wind with just over a minute left in the game.
The Mules milked the clock and ran out the time with Lozano taking a victory knee three times.
Mikey Lozano led the Mule offense with 156-yards rushing and three touchdowns. Luke Del Toro completed seven of nine passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. The Mules rushed for 173 yards and passed for 131 for a total of 304 yards.
Yoel Reyes caught three passes for 53 yards, one touchdown and ran for one two-point conversion. Romeo Reyes made one reception for a four-yard touchdown.
Isaac Mendoza led the Mules with 17 tackles, with three being on special teams and recovered a fumble. Corbin Hardwick also made 17 tackles with two being on special teams. Ean Hasley had 13 tackles with three being on special teams. Julian Astorga and Julian Montiel made 11 tackles each.
The Mules will travel to Childress to play in the historic Fair Park Stadium that has now been converted to artificial turf. The Merkel Badgers will be the home team, and kickoff is scheduled for 2:00 PM Friday afternoon.