The Natalia Mustangs’ dream season came to an abrupt end last Friday, Nov. 17 with a 34-31 Bi-District loss to the Skidmore-Tynan Bobcats.
“Very heartbreaking night for the Natalia Mustangs,” Head Coach Chad Graves said.
Natalia held the lead the entire game until the Bobcats came roaring back in the 4th quarter, outscoring the Mustangs 25-7 in the period. Skidmore-Tynan’s go-ahead touchdown came with just 33 seconds remaining in the game.
Routine scouting and review of game tape wasn’t enough for Skidmore-Tynan Offensive Coordinator Ryan Gupton, who lied about being a Karnes City ISD employee in order to gain entrance to Natalia’s dressing room before the Mustangs’ win over the Badgers in Karnes City Nov. 10.
According to Graves, Gupton claimed to be a Karnes City employee tasked with escorting the Mustangs to the football field. Karnes City’s video surveillance showed Gupton spent nearly 10 minutes in Natalia’s dressing room before the game.
Natalia Superintendent Dr. Hensley Cone made complaints to both the District 16-3A DII Executive Committee, which includes Skidmore-Tynan, and the UIL.
Banquete Superintendent Max Thompson, who is the chairman of the District 16-3A DII Executive Committee, said Gupton received verbal and written reprimands, and was told to send written apologies to Graves and Cone, but fulfilled his duties as Offensive Coordinator during Skidmore-Tynan’s win over Natalia.
Gupton was put on administrative leave after the Bobcats’ victory.
Natalia vs. Skidmore-Tynan
The Mustang faithful were out in force for the team’s first playoff game since 2003.
“I can’t tell you how much it meant to me, our staff, and our team to see our entire community come to the game to support our football team,” Graves said. “I was kidding with the athletic director from Jourdanton earlier in the day on Friday and told him that we will have a line outside the gate before 6:00 pm and I was right. They actually opened the gates at 5:45 to start letting the Mustang fans in.”
The Mustangs gave their fans plenty to cheer for early on, holding Skidmore-Tynan to a 3-and-out on the first possession of the game.
Natalia’s first possession started inside Bobcat territory at the 43 yard line. Quarterback Dustin Richardson hit Nikolai Patino for a 24-yard completion on 3rd-and 12, and an offsides penalty gave the Mustangs another first down at the Skidmore-Tynan 16 yard line. After running back Ray Rizo was stopped for no gain, he picked up 12 yards and a first down, and then punched it in the end zone from four yards out for a 7-0 lead.
The Bobcats’ ensuing drive ate up the first of the opening period. Skidmore-Tynan’s Jesse Sabala broke loose for a 36-yard gain on 3rd-and-40 at the 50 yard line, and the Bobcats eventually scored on the first play of the 2nd quarter. The point-after attempt failed, leaving Natalia with a 7-6 lead.
Natalia’s next drive ended in a 3-and-out, but Mustang Matthew Contreras intercepted a Bobcat pass on 2nd-and-9, setting Natalia up in prime position at the Bobcats’ 24 yard line.
After a delay of game penalty pushed Natalia back five yards, Rizo picked up gains of 24 and two yards before scoring from three yards out for a 14-0 lead.
Skidmore-Tynan (5-6) went on another long, clock-chewing drive. A 42-yard kickoff return gave the Bobcats great starting field position at Natalia’s 48 yard line, and despite four offensive penalties for a total loss of 25 yards, Skidmore-Tynan was able to work down to Natalia’s 12 yard line, where they kicked a 29-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 14-9 at halftime.
The Mustangs received the kickoff to start the second half and immediately scored. A 16-yard return by Patino set the Mustangs up at their own 41 yard line, and an 11-yard gain by Rizo took them inside Skidmore-Tynan territory. After a two-yard loss, Rizo sprinted 50 yards for a touchdown and a 21-9 lead.
Natalia eventually forced a punt on the Bobcats’ ensuing possession and took over at their own 38 yard line. Rizo, Caden Fregia, and Richardson picked up consecutive first downs on long runs before the drive eventually stalled at the Skidmore-Tynan four yard line. Kicker Oscar Alvarez nailed a 21-yard field goal increase the Mustangs’ lead to 24-9 with less than two minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter.
The Bobcats’ next drive continued into the 4th quarter. Skidmore-Tynan converted a 4th-and-2 on a 32-yard run that was immediately followed up by a 22-yard gain on another rush that took the Bobcats to Natalia’s six-yard line. Skidmore-Tynan scored two plays later to make the score 24-16.
The tide started to turn in Skidmore-Tynan’s favor on the ensuing kickoff, which was fumbled and recovered by the Bobcats at Natalia’s 15 yard line. The Mustang defense held strong to keep the Bobcats out of the end zone, but a 32-yard field goal cut the lead to 24-19.
Natalia started their next possession at their own 40 yard line. Richardson connected with Rizo for a 23-yard gain into Bobcat territory, but was intercepted later in the drive.
Skidmore-Tynan took over at their own 35 yard line. A 16-yard run on 3rd-and-9 gave the Bobcats a fresh set of downs, and they scored one play later on a 48-yard rush to take their first lead of the game. A successful two-point conversion put the Bobcats up 27-24 with 5:15 left in the game.
Natalia answered quickly to regain the lead. Starting at the Mustang 29 yard line, Rizo ran the ball four consecutive times, including once for a 16-yard gain, to get into Bobcat territory. Richardson then connected with Rizo on a 38-yard touchdown pass to go up 31-27.
The Mustangs took just 2:25 minutes off the clock, leaving Skidmore-Tynan with 2:50 seconds to score. The Bobcats also had all three timeouts to stop the clock on their final drive.
A 25-yard kickoff return gave Skidmore-Tynan strong field position at their 45 yard line. A six-yard loss and a five-yard illegal procedure penalty left the Bobcats facing a daunting 4th-and-13 with their season on the line. The snap glanced off the fingers of quarterback Stephen Moreno, who scrambled to retrieve the ball from the turf and hurled it down the field to wide receiver Connor DeLeon, who had created just enough separation from the Natalia defender to haul it in for a 59-yard gain. The Bobcats punched it in a few plays later to take a 34-31 lead.
Natalia was left with just 33 seconds on the clock and only one timeout, and though the Mustangs gamely managed to drive to midfield, they weren’t able to score before time ran out on their remarkable season.
“I know that everyone is disappointed that we came up short in the Bi-District game, none more than me,” Graves said.
Natalia had 214 rushing yards and 129 passing yards for 343 total yards of offense, and had 19 first downs on 49 plays.
Skidmore-Tynan had 285 rushing yards and 73 passing yards for 358 total yards of offense, and had 15 first downs on 54 plays.
The Mustangs had five penalties for 35 yards, and the Bobcats had nine penalties for 65 yards.
Turnovers and time of possession are the story of the game. Natalia had two turnovers and was on offense for 18:27, while Skidmore-Tynan turned the ball over just once in 29:33 minutes of possession.
Richardson was 9 of 17 for 129 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Rizo had three receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown, Fregia had four receptions for 41 yards, Patino had one catch for 24 yards, and Jeramiah Castro had one catch for one yard.
Rizo rushed 20 times for 159 yards and three touchdowns. Fregia followed with eight rushes for 36 yards, Richardson rushed three times for 15 yards, and Isaiah Gomez picked up four yards on one carry.
Alvarez answered the bell each time he was called upon, converting one field goal attempt and four extra-point attempts for seven points.
“I know that everyone is disappointed that we came up short in the Bi-District game, none more than me,” Graves said. “As I looked into the swollen eyes of our kids after the game, I told them how proud of them I was. It was a special year with a special group of kids and coaches. They have been the next building block of Natalia Mustang football.
“As I fought back my own tears and emotions, I tried to relay the message of gratitude that we have of them for pouring everything they had into this season. It was a night for our program to grow and learn. We will miss our senior leadership without a doubt, but I am excited for the next group of kids that will have to step up and take their place.”
Natalia finished the season with a record of 9-2 (4-1).
By Marly Davis