Mustangs grind out victory over George West

Mustang #14 Gabriel Perez fights for the tackle as a George West back grabs his face mask.

The Natalia Mustangs were able to grind out a hard fought, physical and gritty road game last Friday night on the road in Live Oak County. After holding a one-point lead going into the 2nd quarter, Natalia outscored the Horns 21-6 in the 2nd and 3rd quarters en route to a 28-12 victory over the Longhorns. The win allowed Natalia to improve to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in District 15-3A (Div.II).
“When you get into the middle of district play, winning on the road becomes very important,” Natalia Head Coach Ilyan Martinez said. “I was really proud of how our kids traveled and fought to get the win against a good football team.”
George West gave Natalia fits early on, as the Natalia offense was not winning the war up front to start off the game and the defense was struggling vs. a two headed monster with QB Jake Snider and RB Weston Rhodes.
Natalia got the best of Snider on their first drive, as Natalia’s Adrian Vasquez intercepted his first pass and scored from 35 yards out. This marked the second week in a row Vasquez scored on a pick six and this happened with 8:51 to go in the 1st quarter. The PAT by Manuel Garcia was good, giving the Mustangs a 7-0 lead.
GW responded on their second drive of the game, as Snider and Rhodes began to dash the Natalia defense. They capped off a 64-yard nine play drive with a Rhodes touchdown run from 1 yard out with 3:34 to go on 4th and 1 at the Natalia 1 yard line. The PAT failed, bringing the score to 7-6.
Natalia found success on their second drive of the game, as they started their drive at their own 36-yard line with 3:34 to go in the 1st quarter. Natalia put together a nice 11 play drive that featured a nice mix of runs and passes. Adrian Vasquez capped off the drive from two yards out to score with 10:59 to go in the 2nd quarter. The PAT was good, as Natalia extended their lead to 14-6.
GW got the ball back at their own 31-yard line with 10:59 to go in the 1st half and they went to work with runs by Rhodes and Snider along with a number of pass plays. Twelve plays later, the Horns capped off their drive with a 7-yard touchdown by Steven Gonzales. The two-point try failed, but the Horns closed the gap to 14-12 with 5:16 to go in the 1st half.
Natalia stalled out on their ensuing drive, giving the ball back to the Horns with 4:07 to go in the half at their own 30-yard line. Luckily, the Natalia defense rose to the occasion and stopped the Horns and got the ball back at their own 46 with 2:25 to go in the 1st half.
Natalia used three runs by Adrian Vasquez before Ryan Rizo found Nate Banda on a great 34-yard pass route to score with 1:07 to go in the 1st half. The Garcia PAT was on point, as Natalia took a 21-12 lead.
GW got the ball back at the Natalia 40 after a nice return and the Horns went to work. On the 4th place of the drive, Snider launched one to the end-zone, but Natalia’s David Silva came up with a huge interception ending the Horns threat and resulting in Natalia taking a 21-12 lead into the half.
“George West did a great job of throwing various formations at us and we made adjustments at the half to become sounder against their midline play where the QB was gashing us,” Martinez said. “Once we got that corrected, I thought our guys settled in and played to their ability.”
George West received the ball coming out of the half and began their drive at the Natalia 46. Natalia was able to force their third turnover of the game during the drive, as Nate Banda recovered a fumble by QB Jake Snider. Unfortunately, Natalia was unable to capitalize on the turnover when it came to scoring.
GW got the ball back with 8:06 to go in the 3rd quarter at their own 21-yard line. During this drive, Snider got hurt with a knee injury, was escorted off the field and did not return for the Horns. GW would go back-ward on this drive, as they were forced to punt as Natalia took over at the George West 47-yard line with 4:19 to go in the 3rd quarter.
Natalia needed only two plays, as Vasquez carried the ball for 11 yards prior to Rizo finding Nate Banda on a nice passing route. As Banda was attempting to pull down the pass, a defender was also trying to pull Banda down resulting in flags being thrown for pass interference. The defender didn’t win this battle, as Banda caught the ball, broke loose and high stepped in for a huge Natalia touchdown with 3:42 to go in the 3rd quarter. The Garcia PAT was good, giving Natalia a 28-12 lead and this is all the Stangs needed to finish off the Longhorns in their third district win of the season when the buzzer sounded at Longhorn Stadium.
“We had some assignment issues in the first half and just didn’t really execute to our ability,” Martinez said. “I thought the second half, our guys came out more intentional about what they needed to do and put the game away. I am really proud of the players and staff for staying locked in and controlling the controllables.”
Offensive Success
The Natalia Mustangs finished the game running 46 plays for 276 yards which included 196 passing and 80 rushing. Natalia had 0 turnovers and finished with 14 1st downs.
Rizo had another great game at QB, as he finished 12-23-196-2TDs. N. Banda led the receivers as he finished with 4 catches for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns. A. Vasquez had 1-29, Gabriel Perez 3-28 and Manuel Garcia 3-24.
On the ground, Vasquez rushed 9-62-1TD as Luis Buentello rushed 6-10.
“I thought our ground game looked really good and we had some explosives in the pass game that really opened it up for us,” Martinez said. “Nate had some big catches while the three-headed back-field grinded down the defense.”
Defensive pressure
With the four turnovers Friday night, Natalia is up to 24 turnovers forced vs. their opponent which is one of the best in the past 10+ seasons for the Natalia defense. Natalia held GW to 57 plays for 180 yards which included just 9 passing yards and 171 rushing. GW finished the game with 14 1st downs in the contest.
Defensive Leaders: Assists-Elijah Banda 14, D. Perez 6, Garcia 5, N. Banda 4, Austin Sutton 4, Gabriel Perez 4, Chris Saldana 3. Tackles Solo- A. Vasquez 8, E. Banda 8, Saldana 7, D. Perez 7, Garcia 6, G. Perez 6, N. Banda 4.
Upcoming Game
The Natalia Mustangs welcome Nixon-Smiley to town Friday for a battle of the Mustangs for Natalia Homecoming 2021. See the preview story for more details.
By Eric Smith
Staff Writer