Friday night in Mantachie was a perfect paradigm for instances when just being somewhere means more than the final result, as the Mustangs fell handily against Calhoun City in a game in which the former’s mere presence exceeded so many expectations.
Mantachie entered the second round playoff matchup with a deceiving (4-5) record, which included division wins over Potts Camp and Strayhorn, and a close loss to Walnut, before upsetting the higher-seeded Coahoma County Red Panthers in the first round of the playoffs where the Mustangs rushed for almost 400 yards from scrimmage.
Calhoun City, and athletic powerhouse, rode in on a heat wave, blazing together seven wins in a row after dropping their first two games of the season, clinching their division’s top seed and quickly dispatching Riverside in their first round matchup.
The Mustangs won the opening toss and elected to receive, and picked up a pair of first downs before turning the ball over on downs. The Wildcats pounced quickly, connecting on a 64-yard pass to Thomas Clayton for the first of many scores.
A missed extra point however swung momentum back to the Mantachie side of the field and the Pony Express offense started firing. The result was a pair of completions to senior Ross Simpson and a 15-yard run up the middle by fellow senior Patrick Mangels, who eventually scored from one yard out.
The Mustangs netted their extra point attempt off the boot of sophomore Luke Ellis, discreetly snatching a 7-6 lead with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter.
Unfortunately for the optimistic crowd, Calhoun City answered at their next available opportunity, fielding the Mantachie squib kick and returning it 60 yards to regain the lead 14-7, where it would stay until the end of the quarter.
The Wildcats struck again on the very first play of the second period, on a 13-yard run by Jaylen Artberry, making it 22-7, and the route was on.
An interception on the ensuing Mustang drive set Calhoun City up for another quick scoring run by Artberry, pushing it to 30-7. They added one more for good measure just before time expired, making the first half tally 36-7.
Two plays in the second half, the Wildcats scored again, this time from 51-yards out, but by the same means, a hand-off to Artberry followed by a two-point conversion, 44-7.
The Mantachie offense continued to struggle against the quick Calhoun defense, and was forced to punt yet again, but a fumble on the snap gave the Wildcats a short field and Artberry capitalized, scoring from 25-yards to push it to 52-7.
By the end of the third quarter the margin was 60-7, but the good news was the Wildcats were finished scoring and the Mustangs were still fighting admirably.
Mantachie was able to send the crowd home on a high note, with two of the future cornerstones, sophomores Jaycob Hawkes and Hunter Hester, linking up for a 25-yard-touchdown pass as time expired, closing out the contest and the campaign, 60-13 score and (4-6) overall record.
While the tough Calhoun defensive unit stifled the Mustangs running game that had carried them all season, Mantachie’s passing attack had its best showing in years, with Hawkes completing 10-of-16 attempts for 169 yards. Simpson, who walked-on for his senior season, went out with a bang, catching all five of his targets for 113 yards.
“I just wanted to be a leader for the team and leave it all on the field, win or lose,” said Simpson. “I’m so glad I made the decision to come out this year, and so proud of my teammates for coming together and proving so much this year. It has been such a great opportunity.”
Many thought this would be a year for rebuilding, starting fresh, for the Mustang football program, and perhaps it was, but the results came a lot sooner than expected, thanks in no small part to Simpson and his fellow seniors.
“The foundation is laid,” senior captain Seth Guin said in an Instagram post following Friday’s game. He also included a hashtag bearing the team’s motto this season, “DMGB,” which stands for “Don’t Matter, Get Better.”
According to head coach Ken Adams, DMGB is the sermon he has preached since arriving in Mantachie this Summer. In his mind, the results that matter are not always one the scoreboard, but rather about whether each young man left the field a better player and a better person than when they started.
The final score Friday night DIDN’T MATTER, because this whole season the Mighty Mustangs GOT BETTER.