The Natalia Mustangs made a historic statement last Saturday night before a standing room only Jourdanton Indian Stadium in the Class 3A, Division II Bi-District Playoffs. For the first time since 2002, the Natalia Mustangs were able to win a Bi-District Title, by totally dominating the traditionally tough Hebbronville Longhorns.
The Natalia Coaching staff came out and offered one of their best game plans in recent history, as the boys in blue went and executed the four quarter game plan. As a result, the Stangs led by a stringy defense, forced eight turnovers and did plenty offensive to run past the favored Longhorns 49-14 in a lop-sided and eventually a contest full of big plays on both sides of the football. This victory also marked what many believe to be the biggest playoff win in program history in reference to the margin of victory.
Natalia will now turn their attention to the #2 ranked squad in the state and the #1 team in Region IV, East Bernard (11-0). The Stangs will clash with the Brahmas Friday night at 7:00 p.m. at Judson ISD’s D.W. Rutledge Stadium in the Area Round of the 3A, Division II Playoffs.
“I am really proud of our kids and staff,” Natalia Head Coach Ilyan Martinez said. “They had a championship week of preparation and it was on full display Saturday night.”
The game did not start easy for Natalia, as Hebbronville was able to win the war up front early on in the contest. It was not until the 4th drive for Natalia which began toward the end of the first quarter and into the 2nd where Natalia made adjustments and began to execute to their full extent.
Natalia started their 4th drive in good field position at the Hebbronville 39 yard line. Natalia used runs by Adrian Vasquez and QB Wyatt Woodson to drive down on six plays scoring on a 4 yard Woodson run. The PAT by Diego Hernandez was good with 11:55 to go in the 2nd to allow for a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive by Hebbronville, the Natalia defense truly began to shine. Four plays into their drive, Natalia’s Jacob Navarro had his first of three interceptions on a 2nd down and 21 play. Following the interception, an unsportsmanlike penalty was called on Hebbronville allowing Natalia to start this drive in great field position again, this time at the Hebbronville 33 yard line. Natalia used a 14 yard run by A. Vasquez and a 5 yard Woodson run before executing a neat play. Natalia’s Vasquez was in the backfield on 2nd and 10 and was looking over toward the sideline awaiting for a play to be called it appeared. The Hebbronville defense as a result, was not truly ready for what was about to happen. As Vasquez remained looking toward the sideline in the backfield, Woodson received the snap, Evy Curiel burned his one on one coverage and caught a beauty for a 19 yard touchdown. The PAT was good again, as Natalia’s lead was now 14-0 with 8:52 to go.
Keep in mind, Hebbronville was bigger, faster and stronger than Skidmore-Tynan, but Natalia simply was executing on all cylinders on defense with a much better game plan this time around.
Five plays later on the Hebbronville drive, Natalia knocked a fumble out of QB Matthew Tolentino and Natalia’s Michael Martinez recovered. Natalia began this drive at their own 39 yard line and needed five plays before scoring again. This time, it was the senior Jacob Jass who broke loose around the right side and he was gone for a 37 yard strike with 4:50 to go in the first half. The PAT was good, as Natalia had opened up a 21-0 lead which had a packed Jourdanton side of the stadium in a frenzy and on their feet, loving every moment.
Natalia was not done yet, as the defense rose again, sacking anything Hebbronville attempted to run at them. There were no gaping gaps this week and Natalia truly played assignment defense with one of the most impressive showings in many years for a Natalia club.
Six plays later, Natalia forced another Hebbronville punt as Natalia took over at their own 7 yard line with 3:24 to go. After watching an incomplete Woodson pass, Natalia’s Vasquez was able to take a carry and race 88 yards down field to the Hebbronville 5 yard line. Two plays later, Woodson ran in from 7 yards out and following the PAT by Hernandez, Natalia had stunned the Longhorns taking a 28-0 lead with 2:17 to go in the first half.
Hebbronville got the ball back at their own 44 yard line and used seven plays to march to the Natalia 43 yard line. On a 3rd down and 15, Natalia’s Jacob Navarro worked his magic again. He stormed in front of a receiver on a pass attempt and intercepted his second pass of the game as time expired, allowing Natalia to stampede into the half with a solid 28-0 first half lead.
“We started slower than we would have liked too, but once we settled in, our offense was able to move the ball and make the most of our opportunities,” Martinez said.
Martinez was also asked his thoughts on the defensive effort in the first half and stated: “I thought our defense was very opportunistic and it was a big part of the success we had” in reference to the stops and forced turnovers.
To start the second half, both teams swapped possessions a few times prior to yet another turnover, this time an interception by Xavier Vasquez with 8:29 to go in the 3rd quarter.
Unfortunately, Natalia was unable to put anything together on the ensuing drive, but a Wyatt Woodson punt pinned the Horns at their own 1 yard line.
Luckily for the Mustangs, the defense would strike yet again. On Hebbronville’s third play of the following drive, Jacob Navarro had interception #3 and raced in for another Natalia touchdown. Following the PAT by Hernandez, Natalia’s lead was 35-0 with 5:51 to go in the 3rd quarter.
Hebbronville finally put together a scoring drive following a nice kickoff return by Elezar Naranjo to the Natalia 45 yard line. Six plays later and QB Tolentino ran in from 12 yards out with 3:16 to go in the 3rd quarter to put the Horns on the board. The PAT was good bringing the score to 35-7.
Natalia would score two final times, as one came on a 13 yard run by QB Woodson with 10:20 to go in the game and the second came on a Jacob Navarro 3 yard run. The Navarro touchdown came after Manuel Garcia recovered a Hebbronville fumbler at their own 4 yard line. Following both PATs, Natalia’s lead stood at 49-7 with 6:12 to go and this is when Natalia began to sub in players.
Naranjo struck big on another kickoff return, this time on a 90 yard touchdown run with 6:12 to go. This was the final time that Hebbronville struck putting the score at 49-14.
The Natalia Mustangs were able to hold off the Horns the remainder of the game for an exciting and dominating 49-14 victory over a Hebbronville squad, state polls had as favorites in the contest.
“Our defense did a great job of rising to the challenge and ultimately setting the tone for the entire game,” Martinez said. “It was the best defense we had played all season.”
The only other team who had this much success defensively vs Hebbronville was Refugio who shut down their offense from start to finish. Thanks to shutting down their run game )39 attempts-87 yards-3 fumbles lost), the Horns were forced to get out of their comfort zone and throw which didn’t work real great for them either. They were 11-23-117-5 interceptions-0 touchdowns on the night.
“I can’t say enough about how hard and well our defense played, especially after all the criticism they took a week ago,” Martinez said. “I am really proud of their resiliency and ability to play at the level we knew they could. Jake Navarro had three interceptions and a defensive touchdown. He has been big all year for us, but no bigger than he was Saturday.”
Offensively, Natalia took advantage of a short field the majority of the night thanks to their defense. Natalia ran 52 plays for 289 yards including 43 passing and 246 rushing yards. Natalia had one turnover which came early in the game.
“Offensively, I thought our backs did a great job of running the football all night,” Martinez said. “Adrian was a workhorse for us again and Jass made some big runs to give us what was needed to be successful.”
Final individual stats:
QB Woodson was 6-13-43-1TD. Receiving, Curiel was 1-19-1TD, A. Vasquez 12-15. Rushing: A. Vasquez 11-138, Woodson 16-60-3TDs, Jass 5-41-1-TD and Navarro 1-3-1TD.
Defensive Stat Leaders: Solo Tackles: Manuel Garcia 8, Navarro 7, Isaac Martinez 5, Dustin Soto 4, Diego Zapata 3, X. Vasquez 3. Assists: Austin Guzman 7, Navarro 6, I. Martinez 6, Michael Martinez 5. Tackles for a loss: Navarro 4, Garcia 3, M. Martinez 2. Interceptions: Navarro 3, X. Vasquez 2.
Thoughts on first playoff win since 2002
“It was a great atmosphere for our kids and program,” Martinez said. “I am really happy for our community, but more for all of the men who have ever been in our program. From the very beginning, we knew this was a special place and it would take time to get where we wanted. I told our boys before we came out, that there was a lot of Mustangs who had paid the price, who never got this opportunity. I feel like they took that to heart and really played at a different level. I could not be more proud of our kids and coaches.”
Natalia will face #2 state ranked East Bernard Friday at Judson. See the preview story for more details.
By Eric Smith