Last week Mantachie all but clinched a spot in the postseason following their poaching of the Alcorn Central Bears, but lost their footing in the depths of Water Valley on Friday as they continued division play.
Out of the gate it appeared that it was business as usual, with the Mustangs receiving first and traversing the field with relative ease, all the way down inside the five-yard-line, but then the Devils conjured their voodoo, forcing a 4th-down-and goal situation from the two.
Rolling the dice Ken Adams sent the offense out and called on this season’s bell cow Braedon Sauls, who carried the ball across the goal line, but gambling against a host of Devils apparently jinxed Mantachie.
Sauls, who never went down on the play eventually dropped the ball following a touchdown signal from the sideline judge and whistle to blow the play dead. Not hearing the whistle, a Water Valley player fell on the ball in the endzone where the far side judge ran in and awarded possession to the Blue Devils, overruling the initial call, vacating the Mustang touchdown.
Two plays later Water Valley put the stolen points on their side of the board, scoring from four yards out following a 76-yard run on their first play from scrimmage. Mantachie again moved the ball well on their ensuing possession looking to start things anew at a tie game, but stalled deep in the Devil’s limbo turning it over on downs.
At the end of the first quarter, despite trailing 7-0, the Mustangs had outgained the Blue Devils 127 yards to 75, but early in the second Water Valley added a second score and then a third on their next possession to widen the gap to 21-0; all the while Mantachie kept fighting.
Getting the ball back and only four minutes to work with before half, the Pony Express rushing attack had to move quickly, starting with favorable field position near the middle of the field and picking up a good chunk of yardage, alternating between junior tandem Luke Ellis and Hunter Hester-thunder and lightning, before handing the hammer to their bulldozer, Sauls who punched it in from a yard out to make the halftime tally 21-7.
Good news being that the Mustangs cracked the egg on the scoreboard before the break, but the bad news was that Water Valley received the second half kickoff with no life raft in sight from the sinking Mantachie defense, who quickly gave up another score to make it 28-7, but a methodical drive by the Mustangs capped off with one of quarterback Jaycob Hawkes’ best passes of the year, a 10-yard fade to Hester at the endzone marker narrowed it once more to 28-14 to close the quarter.
The Blue Devils danced out of reach in the fourth quarter taking advantage of more questionable officiating against the Mustangs who were continuing to move the ball seemingly at will but saw several promising second half drives stagnate after bizarre calls from the team in stripes.
At one point after reaching Water Valley territory, threatening to score a timeout was called for measurement, but rather than the chains meet the ball at the middle of the field, the ball was picked up from its spot and thrown to the sideline judge who measured by the stick, evidently affected the exact placement of the ball.
During the fourth quarter, once again moving with purpose, the Mustangs saw a drive derailed after Sauls was deemed in an ineligible receiver downfield, a ten yard penalty, despite having checked in at wingback in the offensive backfield before the snap. Later, it was Sauls again vexed, as his forward progress on an intermediate run was negated and the official spot was the point of first contact, taking away a first down.
Ultimately officiating likely did not cost Mantachie the game against a very athletic and talented Blue Devils team, but the inconsistency certainly did not make the row any easier to plow and aided in making the final 49-14 score look deceivingly lopsided.
In all actuality, the halftime score should have feasibly been one possession in difference, but the misfortune made it two and the coin flip rules allowed it to reach three after the midpoint.
At the beginning of the season the defense appeared to be the team’s strong point, but injuries and fatigue have decimated the squadron. Not to fear, help is on the way with linebacker Jake Spradling (leg) and cornerback Isaiah Payne (concussion) both slated to return to play in the coming weeks.
Offensively, the Mustangs racked up another 262 yards on the ground, led this week by Ellis who netted 103 yards on 21 carries, followed by Hester finishing with 98 on 11 carries and a receiving touchdown, and Sauls with 42 yards and lone ground score. Of course none of those numbers are possible without the road graters up front on the line, paving the way for the Pony Express to travel.
Mantachie will hit the road again next week, hitching across the Northern border to the suburbs of Memphis, shifting from their dance with the Devil this week to a revival with private Christian school Macon Road Baptist and aptly-named team, the Kingsmen.