BALDWYN – If somebody had told Mantachie coach Lynn Moore before last Friday’s game at Baldwyn that his team would turn the ball over twice for touchdowns and give up a kickoff return for a score and his team would still only lose by 13 points to the Bearcats, he probably would questioned the sanity of that individual.
That’s exactly what happened, however, as Martel Brown returned a kickoff 80 yards and defensive lineman Shaquille Shinault scored twice on fumble recoveries to lead the Bearcats to a hard-fought 34-21 victory over the Mustangs.
“Baldwyn is a really talented football team,” Moore said. “I was proud of our kids for playing hard but disappointed that we made the mistakes that we did. We weren’t consistent in the game. It was just one of those crazy games. We could have easily been right there in it.”
Baldwyn (4-3, 1-0) got the opening kickoff and running backs Duke Upshaw and Laquintez Upshaw churned out yardage to lead the Bearcats into Mustang territory. Quarterback Corbin Scott later took to the air and connected with three different receivers before finding Devonta Gates for an 18-yard touchdown.
Mantachie (4-3, 0-1) responded two series later when, after a Baldwyn fumble, Dustin Carrell found Nick Burns for a 27-yard score to tie the game.
The stalemate lasted all of 13 seconds as Brown weaved his way to pay dirt on the ensuing kick return.
Later, in the second quarter, Baldwyn Punter Clayton Gray pinned the Mustangs on their one-yard line. A fumble on the exchange between Carrell and his running back put the ball on the ground, and Shinault pounced on it to put the Bearcats up by two scores.
Andrew Malone led a tandem of running backs that helped Mantachie embark on a six play, 53-yard drive that was eventually capped by a 29-yard Cory Smith run. The Bearcats came right back, however, when Duke Upshaw punctuated a long drive with a 6-yard run to give Baldwyn a 28-14 halftime lead.
The Mustangs appeared to get a huge break midway through the third when Burns recovered a fumble at the Bearcat 35, but three plays later, Carrell lost the ball under pressure, and Shinault picked it up and rumbled 60 yards for the score.
Mantachie added the final points in the fourth quarter when Carrell connected with Chris Bruff for a 22-yard TD.
“We thought going into this game between us and Mantachie that it was going to be big,” Baldwyn coach Michael Gray said. “Whoever came away with the win was going to have the momentum and a chance to win the division.”
In need of a break
Sometimes in football, a team needs a couple of breaks to shift momentum in their favor. Most of those moments went to Baldwyn in Friday’s contest as the Bearcats capitalized on Mantachie’s mistakes while somehow dodging the proverbial bullets from their own errors.
The Mustangs did, however, show flashes of something that they have lacked over the past couple of seasons, a power run game. Malone and Cory Smith provided the team with the ability to move the pile and, at times, the Mantachie offense seemed to push the Bearcats around with their rushing attack.
“We did run the football at them,” Moore said. “We had some guys who played really well in different positions. Andrew Malone and Cory Smith both ran the ball hard. That is a positive, and it is good to know that we can do that.”
Coming off of what will probably be their toughest two-game stretch of the season, Mantachie now faces a slate of winnable games to finish the season. That lineup begins this Friday when the Mustangs host New Site for homecoming.
“We have just got to go back to work and do the things that we need to do to get better,” Moore said. “We are now in division play, and the goals that we set are still there for us. We just have to go out and do what we need to do to get there.”