May 23, 2024
  • 3:18 pm Several area seniors receive AgTexas scholarships
  • 3:17 pm 8 area students receive Five Area Connect Scholarships
  • 3:14 pm Muleshoe City Council considers childcare facility tax exemption
  • 3:14 pm This is what the Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge Expansion means for landowners
  • 3:13 pm Muleshoe Art Association holds last meeting of the year

LITTLEFIELD – As the old saying goes, defense wins championships. At the very least, defense wins bi-district championships.

Muleshoe’s offense had trouble getting through the Brownfield defense. The Mules entered Thursday night’s Class 3A Division I Region 1 bi-district title game averaging over 32 points per game. It was evident early on that point total wouldn’t be likely against the Cubs. If they were going to get the win in the team’s first playoff appearance since 2017, they would need the defense to step up.

That, also, was a problem early on. Typically a team more than capable of limiting opponent passing opportunities, that was where the Cubs excelled. The Mules had all but shut down the Brownfield rushing attack, but the Cubs found their groove through the air, taking a 17-14 lead into halftime.

In the second half, the script completely flipped. Muleshoe used a methodical drive to open the third quarter and take its first lead of the game. Nobody knew it at the time, but with 19:33 left in regulation, the game was over.

That was because Muleshoe locked down its passing defense to go with its suffocating run defense. Brownfield was able to move the ball, but was not able to finish drives. Each time it looked like the Cubs were on the verge of reclaiming the lead, the Mules came through.

First, it was Jeremiah Barron’s tip-drill interception to stop a drive deep in Muleshoe territory. Then Brennen Davis sacked Brownfield quarterback Zarius Garcia on 4th-and-short. And when the offense got its chance to close the game, Sebastian Kirven caught two 4th-down passes to ice the game.

All Zach Hasley had to do was take one last kneel down, secure the 21-17 victory, and the Mules were ready to party.

Mules Zach Radloff (12) and Zach Halsey celebrate as the final seconds of the victory tick off the clock. (Nathan Giese/Muleshoe Journal)

“We’ve worked so hard for this,” said Barron. “It feels great to be here.”

Both teams got out of the starting blocks poorly with bad snaps plaguing each squad. The first score finally came with 20 seconds left in the first quarter. The short Brownfield touchdown run was set up by a 52-yard deep pass from Garcia to Jeremiah Tealer, the first play of substance in the game.

That set up a streak of five straight drives that wound up with scores. Muleshoe responded with a quick score to tie the game, a 14-yard run by Zach Radloff where the running back kept his balance, stayed on his feet and got into the end zone.

“Playoffs is different, man,” said Muleshoe head coach Jason Richards. “You’ve got to find a way to survive, got to find a way to win and that’s what we did.”

The Cubs came right back with another chunk play of 38 yards that lead to an 8-yard score from Garcia to Kaydyn Moore.

On the ensuing drive, the Mules faced a 3rd-and-26 from its own 35-yard line. That’s when the trusty connection of Hasley-to-Irvin Torres came up big for the first time.

Muleshoe’s Irvin Torres brought in this 22-yard reception on 3rd-and-26 to keep the drive alive. (Nathan Giese/Muleshoe Journal)

Hasley lofted a ball perfectly over the Brownfield defender and Torres brought it in for a 22-yard gain. The two connected for 8 yards on fourth down to keep the drive alive, and a targeting call on the play gave Muleshoe the ball at the Brownfield 11. Shortly after, Hasley hit Kirven on a 5-yard score.

That’s when the Muleshoe defense showed its first signs of a turnaround. Brownfield moved the ball all the way to the Muleshoe 15, but the next three plays resulted in negative-1 yard. The Cubs were forced to settle for a field goal, and JD Vasquez’s 32-yard attempt just barely got over the crossbar to make it 17-14 at halftime.

“We had to get aggressive,” said Kirven. “Our defense did alright, but the secondary, we had to step up our game, and we did, thanks to our coaches.”

The Mules got the ball to start the third quarter and put together its best drive of the night to that point. Mixing up run attempts between sophomores Daniel Sianez and Radloff, the Mules took 4:27 off the clock and took their first lead of the game on a 32-yard scoring toss from Hasley to Torres.

The defense took control from there, starting with Barron.

Barron recognized the play. It was the same one that had set up Brownfield’s first score of the game. On that play, Barron said he undercut the pass, which allowed Tealer to get the big-yardage play.

This time, he read it perfectly, first deflecting the ball and then, after a few bobbles, laid out to secure the interception.

“It took me a little bit,” said Barron. “I was a little hesitant and I muffed it a little bit, but I stayed with it and I caught it.”

Following a Muleshoe punt, Brownfield moved the ball again, taking over five minutes off the clock. Facing a 4th-and-2 from the Muleshoe 30, Garcia scrambled trying to find somebody open. There wasn’t a pass to be had. Then he tried to run for it, but Davis chased him down and stopped him short, forcing a turnover on downs.

“Our defense played tremendous,” said Richards. “That’s a really good football team and they hung in there and made plays when we had to make plays and we won it in the second half.”

Another Muleshoe punt gave Brownfield the ball back with just under 11 minutes left. Plenty of time to put together a drive, or so one would think.

Brownfield very, very slowly moved the ball to the Mule 35-yard line, but a false start, a short run and an incomplete pass made it 4th-and-9. Garcia’s pass was off the mark and into tight coverage. The Mules got the ball back and looked to finish the job.

The Mules got the ball back with 5:16 left. As they had all game, they stuck to the ground, eating up yards and time on the clock. Facing a 3rd-and-6, rather than run the ball again, the Mules took a shot. Hasley hit Kriven on a short crossing route for the first down.

With 1:13 left, Brownfield was out of timeouts, but Muleshoe faced a 4th-and-3. A decision had to be made. Do the Mules punt and pin the Cubs deep? Do they run and risk being stopped short? Or do they take the shot and pass it?

Muleshoe decided to pass, using a play similar to the last one that got the first down. It was going to Kirven. He knew it, and so did Brownfield.

“A little bit, but I knew I had to do it for my team,” Kirven said when asked if he was nervous about the play. “Quarterback did a great job and I had to do what I had to do and we won.”

Kirven had two defenders on him, but Hasley bought his tight end some time to get across the field, moving to his left and hitting the sophomore in stride for the game-clinching first down.

“From what this program did last year to this year, our kids are fighting,” said Richards. “It was never for lack of effort. They played extremely hard. When we had to make plays, we did.”

The victory brought Muleshoe its first gold ball since 2017.

“This feels great,” said Kirven. “We haven’t won a good ball in a long time. It feels great that our community’s here cheering us on. I’m just grateful for everything that we have.”

The Mules will find out their opponent for the area round on Friday night.

Nathan Giese, Muleshoe Journal

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