The Natalia Mustangs continued their winning ways last Friday night, thumping the Cotulla Cowboys 45-14 to improve to 4-0 on the season.
“Very proud of how our boys played this past Friday night in Cotulla,” Head Coach Chad Graves said. “It was Cotulla’s Homecoming and the atmosphere was electric.”
Natalia got off to a quick start in the game, something Graves said the team had been working on. A deep kick by Oscar Alvarez and good special teams play pinned the Cowboys at their own 12 yard line to start the game, and on 3rd-and-6, Oscar Ramirez picked off a pass to set Natalia up at the Cotulla 16 yard line.
The Mustangs lost six yards on their first play from scrimmage, but on 4th-and-4, Ray Rizo scrambled for four yards for a fresh set of downs, and Caden Fregia punched it in from a yard out on the next play to give Natalia a quick 7-0 lead.
After holding the Cowboys to another 3-and-out, Natalia took over at their own 48 yard line. Cotulla jumped offsides on 4th-and-1 to gift the Mustangs with another set of downs and they took advantage with Rizo and Fregia trading several short gains before Rizo took it 29 yards for the score and a 14-0 lead.
Alvarez booted the ensuing kickoff all the way to the 1 yard line, where Cowboys kick returner Colby Ortiz managed to sprint and slither his way past Natalia’s special teams players for a 100-yard touchdown. The point-after attempt was missed, leaving the score 14-6.
Both teams struggled on offense for the rest of the half, with Natalia giving up an interception before later recovering a Cotulla fumble at the Cowboys’ 26 yard line. The Mustangs capitalized on that turnover with a 32-yard field goal by Alvarez to take a 17-6 lead in at the half.
The Mustangs were a team possessed in the second half, scoring on each of their four possessions.
Natalia received the kickoff to start the 3rd quarter, and after chewing up a few minutes of the clock, Julian Martinez rushed for a 2-yard touchdown and a 24-6 lead.
Cotulla’s Ortiz fumbled the ensuing kickoff return and the ball was recovered by Ryan Juarez to give Natalia good field position. After offensive pass interference set them back 15 yards, Rizo picked up 25 yards for a first down. A false start pushed the Mustangs back five yards, and consecutive runs for losses left them facing a 3rd-and-28 from the Cotulla 45 yard line. Fregia busted out a 40-yard run to put the Mustangs back in business, and then finished the drive off himself with a 5-yard touchdown run for a 31-6 lead.
On the first play of Cotulla’s ensuing possession, Fregia intercepted a pass at the Cotulla 44-yard line and returned it to the Cotulla 18 yard line. After a short drive, Rizo picked up a 10-yard touchdown to put Natalia up 38-6.
The Cowboys were finally able to string together a long drive on their next possession, eating up the last six minutes of the 3rd quarter and the first two and a half of the 4th quarter before scoring on an 8-yard run. The two-point conversion made it a 38-14 game.
Natalia finished off the game with a final scoring play. Jacob Jass broke out for 41 yards to the Cotulla 13 yard line, then rushed for another 13 yards to pick up a touchdown to make the final score 45-14 in favor of the Mustangs.
“Our team reached their weekly goals this week,” Graves said. “Special teams played well, defense held Cotulla to less than 30 yards in the 1st half, and the offense scored on great field position given to them by our defense. I thought our kids played fast and physical and it showed on the scoreboard.”
The Mustang defense limited Cotulla to 138 total yards of offense on 30 plays while recovering two fumbles and picking off two passes. The Cowboys had just seven first downs.
“We won the turnover/take away battle and started fast/finished strong,” Graves said. “Defensively, we played relentless. We had 11 hats to the ball every play.”
Natalia continued to be potent with the ball, racking up 262 total yards of offense and 19 first downs on 44 plays, as well as converting 5/9 3rd down and 2/2 4th down attempts.
“Offensively, our line, ‘H’ back and receivers blocked very well all night which opened up huge lanes for our running backs,” Graves said. “We must be able to bring that effort and relentless play to every game. Very proud of our kids and coaching staff for a solid week of work! Everyone (coaches and players) must get better each week to have an opportunity to compete in our district.”
Rizo led Natalia’s offensive attack with 173 yards and two touchdowns on 22 rushing attempts. Jass had 54 yards and one touchdown on two attempts, Fregia had 50 yards and two touchdowns on four attempts, and Martinez had 22 yards and one touchdown on four rushes.
Alvarez continued to be an important asset, nailing all six extra point attempts as well as a field goal.
Natalia vs. Poteet
Next up for the Mustangs are the Poteet Aggies, who come to town this Friday, Sept. 29 for Natalia’s Homecoming game.
The Aggies are 1-2 after starting off the season with a 33-14 loss to Jourdanton and a 31-0 loss to Cole before bouncing back last week with a gritty 14-12 win over Karnes City.
“Poteet is a very big and physical team,” Graves said. “We will have our hands full with the Aggies coming to town on Friday.
“Coach Foster has always had his kids prepared to play. The past two years the Aggies have dominated us on the field and on the scoreboard. In order for us to compete and be successful this Friday we must take care of our play. We cannot concern ourselves with what or how Poteet is playing. We must control our effort and execution.
“The turnover battle will be a huge factor in this game and we cannot let all of the external noise of Homecoming interfere with our preparation.”
Game time is set for 7:30 pm.
By Marly Davis