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Last week’s scrimmage against Olton showed the growth the Muleshoe football team has made over the last year. Head coach Jason Richards hopes that preseason growth can be turned into regular-season success.

The Mules are set to kickoff the 2021 football team on Friday night by hosting Sundown. During last year’s encounter, the Roughriders came away with a narrow 6-0 victory by limiting the Mules to 41 total plays, controlling the time of possession throughout.

Richards expects Sundown to have the same mentality in this year’s contest, so the Mules are prepared for it.

“We’ve got to stop the run and we’ve got to have quality possessions on offense because you’re not going to get very many,” said Richards. “You’ve got to make your possessions count against those guys.”

During the scrimmage with Olton, the Mules were dominant through much of the controlled portion, where teams traded sets of 10 plays back and forth. It was during the live, 12-minute segment of action that Muleshoe showed what its learned during Richards’ tenure.

“I was pretty well pleased with our controlled scrimmage on both sides, then I was really pleased with our kids executing the two minute drill with 59 seconds left and scoring to end the live quarter,” said Richards.

Things didn’t start off well in the live period. The Mules had a personal foul early, had a bad snap and struggled to replicate the offensive success they had in the controlled portion.

The Mustangs scored the tying touchdown with 59 seconds left, and that felt like the end. But the Mules weren’t done. They marched down the field, overcame a late holding penalty and finished strong.

With time winding down, senior quarter Zach Hasley dropped a picture perfect throw to the back of the end zone, over the head of the Olton defender, and into the arms of receiver Judas Reyes. Reyes got both feet down for the score.

“That’s just the difference of having some experience in those situations,” said Richards. “I was really proud of them. We hadn’t really worked much tempo or two-minute, so that was really good for us to have the opportunity to go against a really good and well-coached Olton defense. You couldn’t recreate that if you wanted.”

Richards admits he would’ve be fine had that final play not resulted in a score. Afterall, it was just a scrimmage, just one quarter of live action. But, it was the way the players handled the situation and got the job done that has the coach excited about he possibilities going into a new season.

Hasley is entering his senior year as the team’s quarterback and is one of the key returners for the Mules. He passed for over 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, production Muleshoe is hoping he can improve upon this year.

His two primary targets will be junior Irvin Torres and senior Brennen Davis. Torres has already had a productive varsity career, earning first team all-district honors as a sophomore. Davis, playing the tight end, is someone Richards is very excited about, calling him a Division I talent.

“He’s a diamond in the rough,” Richards said of Davis. “He’s a phenomenal player.”

While the skill positions get the stats, Richards is equally excited about his offensive line.

Among the big guys up front is left tackle Jacob Reyes, left guard Nic Reyes, center Eric Vasquez and right guard Andre Alfaro. That group is not only big and strong, they’re also experienced.

“They’ve come a long way,” Richards said of the offensive line.

Those linemen are going to be important against the Roughriders, who have size to spare. Richards described the Sundown linemen as 1,500 pounds collectively, which is rare for this level of high school football.

“They’re physical. They’re big,” Richards said of sundown. “It’ll definitely be a four-quarter game. We’re going to try to get this thing to the second half and hopefully wear them down a little bit. But they’re big. It pops out, their size, when you go watch them.”

The Mules are coming off a 2-7 campaign while the Roughriders went 9-3, finished second in District 2-2A Division I and made it to the area round of the playoffs.

Nathan Giese

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