Mustangs beat Badgers, will battle Bobcats in Bi-District

Diego Zapata carries the ball while Demetre Perez blocks a defender. Photo by Eric Smith.

The Natalia Mustangs ended District 15-3A DII play in style last Friday, Nov. 10, beating the Karnes City Badgers 35-26 to solidify their second-place finish behind undefeated District champs Poth.
Natalia (9-1, 4-1) will take a four-game winning streak into their Bi-District battle against the Skidmore-Tynan Bobcats of District 16-3A DII, set for this Friday, Nov. 17 in Jourdanton.
“We are very excited to be working this week,” Natalia Head Coach Chad Graves said. “It was a great feeling to get up bright and early on Saturday morning to make the trip to the field house.
“Skidmore-Tynan will be a great matchup for us.”
Natalia vs. Karnes City
The Mustangs jumped out to a quick lead that they never relinquished.
“This was a good game to send us to the 2017 Texas High School State Playoffs,” Graves said.
Karnes City (3-7, 1-4) received the opening kickoff, and just three plays into the game, fumbled the ball. Caden Fregia recovered.
The turnover gave Natalia good field position at the Karnes City 48-yard line, and after a defensive pass interference call bumped the Mustangs up another 11 yards, running back Ray Rizo busted a 37-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
Karnes City wasn’t rattled by the turnover and quick score. After a 21-yard kickoff return, the Badgers turned in rushes of 11 and 32 yards to get deep into Natalia territory. Two more short gains and another 19-yard run gave Karnes City 1st-and-goal at the one-yard line, and the Badgers punched it in from there.
Natalia has had solid special teams play all season, and it showed again, as the Mustangs blocked Karnes City’s point-after attempt to preserve a 7-6 lead.
Diego Zapata returned the ensuing kickoff 14 yards to the Mustangs’ own 42-yard line. A Rizo gain of three yards was sandwiched between a five-yard illegal procedure penalty and a rush that was stopped in the backfield for a loss of two yards, pushing Natalia back to their own 38. On 3rd-and-14, quarterback Dustin Richardson connected with Jeramiah Castro on a 62-yard touchdown pass to go up 14-6.
A 40-yard kickoff return set the Badgers up at the 50-yard line to begin their next possession. Karnes City chipped away at the Mustang defense, gaining yards in short chunks to drive all the way to Natalia’s 21 yard line. A stop in the backfield for a loss of seven yards left the Badgers facing a 3rd-and-13, and Zapata picked off a pass to keep Karnes City out of the end zone.
Natalia took over less than a minute into the second quarter and didn’t waste much time before scoring again. Richardson hit Castro for a 10-yard gain, and after back-to-back rushes for a net loss of seven yards, Richardson went to the air on 3rd-and-17 and completed a 73-yard touchdown pass to Nikolai Patino for a 21-6 lead.
Karnes City’s next possession began at their own 25-yard line, and the Badgers managed to run just three plays before turning the ball over again, this time when Fregia intercepted another errant pass.
Already nearly in the red zone, the Mustangs picked up four yards before Rizo sprinted another 25 for a touchdown and a commanding 28-6 lead.
The Badgers came alive with just under seven minutes to go in the first half. A 15-yard facemask penalty and a five-yard offsides penalty helped them keep their next drive going, and they scored from a yard out to cut the deficit to 28-12 after a failed two-point conversion.
A great kick pinned Natalia down at the three-yard line on their next possession, and the Badger defense immediately tracked Richardson down in the end zone for a safety to make the score 28-14.
In addition to the two points, Karnes City was rewarded for the safety with another possession. A 30-yard return set them up at Natalia’s 35-yard line, and a 25-yard completion on 3rd-and-9 moved them inside the 10. The Badgers scored two plays later to pull to within 28-20, and though the Mustang special teams blocked the point-after attempt, it was a one-possession game at the half.
Natalia made a statement in the third quarter, scoring on their first drive and keeping Karnes City out of the end zone for the entire period. After Jacob Jass provided a solid 19-yard return on the opening kickoff, Rizo took the handoff on the first play from scrimmage and took it 66 yards to house, giving the Mustangs a much more comfortable 35-20 lead and quashing any of the Badgers’ remaining first-half momentum.
The Mustangs’ only blemish in the third quarter was an interception, but Natalia’s defense played at a high level the entire period, forcing two 3-and-outs.
Karnes City took over after Natalia turned the ball over on downs on a 4th-and-12 at the Badger 30 yard line. A 50-yard run did most of the damage on the drive, and the Badgers scored the final points of the game to make it 35-26 after another failed two-point conversion.
Over 10 minutes remained in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs were forced to punt after a five-yard false start penalty and a six-yard sack, and once Karnes City took over, a five-yard offsides penalty and a 15-yard pass interference penalty helped keep the Badgers’ dream of a comeback alive. With Karnes City inside the Natalia 30-yard line and looking for another touchdown, the Mustang defense once again came up big in the clutch. Zapata intercepted his second pass of the game, and Natalia ran out the clock for the 35-26 win.
“I felt that our kids played hard, and the outcome was in our favor,” Graves said. “Our goal each week is to get better and we did in some aspects of the game.”
Turnovers were the difference in the game. Karnes City had four, while Natalia only had one.
“The biggest goal was to win the take-away battle and we did that,” Graves said.
The teams were fairly even in other respects. Natalia had 208 rushing yards and 154 passing yards 362 total yards of offense, while Karnes City had 241 rushing yards and 54 passing yards for 300 total yards of offense.
Natalia had 10 first downs and eight penalties for 70 yards, and Karnes City racked up 19 first downs with just three penalties for 31 yards.
“We still need to correct some mesh reads on offense, fundamentals on defense, and shore up some issues on special teams, but I am confident we will do that,” Graves said.
Rizo rushed for 201 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. Jass had 10 yards on three carries, and Richardson rushed four times for a total loss of three yards.
Richardson only attempted eight passes but connected on five of them for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Castro was on the receiving end of two passes for 36 yards and a touchdown, while Patino caught one for 73 yards and a touchdown. Fregia also had one catch for 17 yards, and Rizo had one reception for a loss of eight yards.
Kicker Oscar Alvarez had another perfect game, converting all five point-after attempts.
Zapata had two interceptions, while Fregia came down with one pick and recovered one fumble.
Natalia vs. Skidmore-Tynan
The Mustangs’ first playoff game since 2003 is against the Skidmore-Tynan Bobcats, who are 4-6 overall but went 3-2 in District 16-3A DII to finish third and qualify for the postseason.
Skidmore-Tynan lived up their name with a four-game skid to start the season, falling to John Paul II 26-8, Woodsboro 44-22, Industrial 35-6, and Kaufer 40-34 before beating Runge 41-0.
The Bobcats alternated wins and losses in District play, beating Odem 42-3 before a bad 30-27 loss to fifth-place Banquete. Skidmore-Tynan followed that up with a 37-21 win over District 16-3A champs Hebbronville, then lost 31-28 to London before beating basement-dwelling Monte Alto 54-13 to close things out.
“We are preparing to stop the Slot-T, which is something we never see,” Graves said of the Bobcats’ offensive set. “I am confident that our defensive staff will have our kids ready.
“Defensively for Skidmore, they are an odd front team that likes to bring pressure every snap. We will have to play fundamental offense and sort out the techniques as they come, really getting back to the basics and making sure we are doing everything we can to put us in a position to make plays in every phase of the game.”
Skidmore is 90 miles out from Jourdanton, while Natalia is just over 30 miles away, so the Mustangs should enjoy something akin to a home field advantage.
To that end, a community pep rally featuring the Natalia High School cheerleaders and band is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 16 at 5:30 pm in the NHS gym. Community members are invited to wear Mustang shirts and enter through the gym’s front doors, which open at 5:00 pm.
“I am really excited for our community, our district, our program, and most importantly our seniors,” Graves said. “They have put in countless hours after school, in the summer, and after practice to ensure this could be a possibility. We have a great group of kids here and I hope that our community knows that they want to represent them the very best they can.
“I hope to pack the stadium with Mustang fans and show everyone what our community is about!! See you there!!!”
Kickoff is set for 7:00 pm at Indian Stadium in Jourdanton.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer