Unbeaten Mustangs kick off District play in Poth

Matthew Manka, Kameron Frias, Demetre Perez, and Nikolai Patino line up on defense during a recent game. Click on the photo to see more Mustang football pictures!

After a week of rest and preparation, the Natalia Mustangs are on the road this Friday, October 13 to open District play against perennial power Poth.
“Playing the powerhouse Poth Pirates as the first district game will set the tone for district play,” Natalia Head Coach Chad Graves said. “I can assure everyone, our kids and staff will be prepared when we step on the field at Jack Lane Stadium on Friday.”
The Mustangs are in the midst of their best season in years, and head into District play with a 5-0 record for the first time since 1989.
Natalia has been strong on both sides of the ball, racking up 1,784 total yards of offense and scoring 183 points, while giving up just 40 total points.
The Mustangs have rushed for 1,401 yards and 20 touchdowns on 156, averaging nine yards per rush and 280.2 rushing yards per game.
Senior running back Ray Rizo has fueled Natalia’s ground game, tallying 1,067 rushing yards to rank among the leaders in the state.
Another 383 yards of offense have come through the air. The Mustangs have completed 35 of 57 passing attempts, scoring three touchdowns to just one interception.
On defense, the Mustangs have recorded one sack, recovered four fumbles, and hauled in seven interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns.
Special Teams play has also been impressive. Kicker Oscar Alvarez has converted 24 of 25 extra point attempts and three of four field goal attempts, contributing 33 points. Alvarez has also kicked off 34 times for 1,841 yards and 12 touchbacks, averaging 54.1 yards per kick.
Rizo has punted 11 times for 317 yards, an average of 28.8 yards per punt.
Diego Zapata has three kick returns for 77 yards, Jimmyray Garza has two returns for 43 yards, Jeramiah Castro has one return for 30 yards, and Nikolai Patino has one return for 11 yards.
Despite the positive stats, Natalia still has room for improvement. The Mustangs have turned the ball over nine times, including losing seven of eight fumbles, and have 44 penalties for 366 yards.
This year’s Poth squad is senior-heavy, with 15 of the 26 players on the Varsity roster in their last season of high school football.
Poth (4-1) started the season with three straight wins, taking close victories over Randolph (32-26), Falls City (33-24), and Cole (29-14).
The Pirates’ sole loss on the season came on Sept. 22 against the visiting Union City Golden Tornadoes. The Tennessee squad featured an offensive line averaging more than 270 lbs. and used that to their advantage, scoring five of their six touchdowns on the ground against an overmatched Poth defense en route to a dominating 42-21 win.
Poth bounced back the following week against Ben Bolt, notching a 50-6 win heading into a bye week before District play.
Natalia vs. Poth
Poth beat the Mustangs on their home field in a close game last season.
“The 2016 Natalia vs. Poth game left a bitter taste in our mouths when we walked off the field with the 34-31 loss at Mustang Stadium,” Coach Graves said. “That was one of those games that when we looked back we said if we only made this play or that play the outcome would be different.”
This year’s matchup is likely to be just as close.
“We have been preparing for this game since our season came to an abrupt end last year,” Graves said. “It should be an exciting game to play and coach.
“I know that Poth will have a packed crowd, I hope our fans make that trip over there and match their energy,” Graves continued. “Please come out, be loud, and help us set the tone for 2017 district play.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer