By Delton Wilhite
It seems that the Muleshoe Mules have played better under pressure all season long. The Area Round game proved to be no different. The Mules fell behind early but battled back and even took a 13-point lead in the third period.
The Merkel Badgers proved they could also play under pressure and came back late in the third quarter to cut the Mule lead to 27-22. But the Badgers were not finished and scored again with 1:33 left in the game to retake the lead 28-27 over the Mules.
“I am very proud of our kids,” said Mule head coach, David Wood. “They never quit, even when it looked like everything was going against them. They continued to fight their way back.”
“We knew we matched up with Merkel. But today we just ran out of time.”
“I want to thank the parents and the all the Mule fans for their support this season. It was hard at times, but the kids just kept working, claimed a gold ball, and made their final game very exciting. The winner was not determined until the final play of the game.”
The Badgers kicked off to the Mule end zone. The Mules began their final drive 75 yards from pay dirt.
Mikey Lozano faked a handoff to Ryan Rodriguez and then heaved the ball downfield toward Yoel Reyes. Y. Reyes saw the ball was thrown short and turned to come back for the ball. He slipped on the new turf but managed to scramble back to his feet in time to scoop the ball up just above the artificial grass at the Merkel 47.
The Mules sent four receivers wide to the left side. Lozano passed to Y. Reyes behind the three blockers. Brady Martinez and Isaac Mendoza made blocks downfield for a five-yard gain.
Romeo Reyes was the lone receiver to the right side. He ran a six-yard hook and Lozano delivered him the ball for a first down.
The Mules sent quad receivers to the wide side of the field, and Lozano tossed to Y. Reyes. Mendoza chopped down the outside linebacker, and Martinez sealed off the cornerback to allow Y. Reyes to find a path downfield to the Merkel 15.
Lozano took the snap and made a head fake that froze the middle linebacker. Lozano scooted up the middle for six yards. Moises made the critical block on second down to allow Lozano to reach the Merkel four.
Time was short when Lozano took the snap. Vasquez and Leonel Camarena sealed off the inside. Lozano made a short gain but was tackled by his facemask. The penalty advanced the Mules to the Badger two-yard line with four seconds remaining on the clock.
Martinez lined up to attempt a 19-yard field goal, but there was movement in the Mule offensive line. The motion penalty pushed the Mules back to the Merkel seven. Merkel took back-to-back timeouts to attempt to freeze Martinez.
Martinez set the tee on the Merkel 14 for a 24-yard field goal kick. A Badger broke through and slashed behind the Mule line and blocked the Mule field goal to give Merkel the Area Gold Ball with a final score of Merkel 28-Mules 27.
The Badgers scored on their first possession on a 67-yard pass and run with 9:26 left in the opening period to lead the Mules 7-0.
The Mules answered back just over seven minutes later when Lozano broke loose for a 20-yard scamper. The Mules trailed 7-6 with two minutes remaining in the first period.
Merkel blocked a Mule punt that went through the end zone for a safety a third of the way through the second period. Merkel led 9-6.
Jesus Montiel separated the Badger quarterback from the ball and Julian Astorga pounced on the ball for the Mules at the Merkel 32. The Mules used just two plays to cash in on the Badger turnover. Luke Del Toro fired a strike to Y. Reyes for a 31-yard touchdown. Martinez tacked on the point after to give the Mules a 13-9 lead at the half.
Merkel scored four minutes into the third period to take back the lead 15-13.
Lozano took a three-step drop and fired the ball to Y. Reyes for his second touchdown of the day from 62 yards out. Lozano found a crease for the two-point conversion to put the Mules up 21-13 with seven and half minutes left in the third quarter.
Lozano was picked up and slammed to the turf after the two-point conversion play was over. The personal foul penalty allowed the Mules to kickoff from the Merkel 45-yard line.
Martinez sent a spinning ball downfield and hit one of the Badger linemen. The ball bounced back towards the Mules and Mendoza leaped on the ball for the Mules at the Merkel 34.
Rodriguez followed Carlos Meza through a hole in the right side of the Mule line for 18 yards. Rodriguez tried the left side of the line for a couple of yards before Montiel gained one yard.
R. Reyes and Jacob Kettner ran crossing routes in the end zone. Lozano tossed the ball up, and Kettner leaped high in the air to snag the ball for a 13-yard touchdown. The Mules led 27-15 with 5:59 left in the third quarter.
The Badgers scored twice to overtake the Mules for the win.
The Mules rushed for 174 yards and passed for 231 yards for a total offense of 405 yards.
Lozano carried the ball 27 times for 85 yards, one touchdown, and a two-point conversion. He completed nine-of-nine passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Rodriguez rushed eight times for 48 yards.
Y. Reyes made six receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Martinez made two catches for 26 yards, and Mendoza caught one pass for 23 yards. Kettner snagged one pass for 13 yards and one touchdown.
Montiel and Mendoza led the Mule defense with 17 tackle each. Mendoza had two special teams tackles, and Montiel made one. Corbin Hardwick finished with 15 tackles, with two being on special teams, two being for losses, one sack, and caused one fumble.
Julian Astorga had 11 tackles, one quarterback hurry, and recovered one fumble. Ean Hasley added ten tackles, two being on special teams, one sack, two quarterback hurries and caused one fumble.
Some of the Mules will move on to basketball, while others will start off-season training, and some of the seniors have concluded their athletic careers as a Mule.