Mustangs miss opportunities in loss to Poth

Mustang running back Ray Rizo tries to avoid two Poth defenders after taking the hand-off from quarterback Dustin Richardson. Photo by Eric Smith.

The momentum of five straight wins to start the season wasn’t enough to sustain the Natalia Mustangs last Friday, Oct. 13, as they fell to the Poth Pirates 20-10 in the District opener.
“Very disappointed by the outcome of the game,” Natalia Head Coach Chad Graves said. “I felt like our kids played extremely hard but didn’t come out on top on the score board.”
Natalia (5-1) took an early lead after forcing a Pirate punt on the opening possession of the game. Mustang running back Ray Rizo took the handoff and connected with Diego Zapata for a 78-yard touchdown pass to go up 7-0.
The Pirates started their second possession of the game with good field position thanks to a 31-yard kickoff return. A block in the back and a pass for negative gain left them facing 2nd and 13, but consecutive rushes of 12 yards and one yard gave them a fresh set of downs at the Natalia 28 yard line. Another 12-yard gain took them into the red zone at Natalia’s 12 yard line, and Pirates scored on a 12-yard run on the next play to tie things up 7-7.
The teams traded punts twice before Natalia put together what looked to be another scoring drive. The Mustangs took over at the Poth 47 yard line, and Rizo promptly picked up 11 yards. Rizo continued to be the workhorse, moving the chains all the way down to the 4 yard line before a fumble that was recovered by Poth put an end to the Mustangs’ scoring threat.
Poth (5-1) had limited options backed up against their own end zone, and the Mustang defense clamped down, forcing a 3-and-out and another punt.
Natalia was forced to work quickly with no timeouts and just 1:26 left in the first half. Mustang quarterback Dustin Richardson hit Nikolai Patino for 31 yards to move the ball to the Poth 14 yard line, Rizo rushed for three yards, and Richardson connected with Patino and Rizo on consecutive passes for gains of four yards and six yards to give the Mustangs a 1st down at the Pirate 1 yard line. The Mustangs were stifled for no gain on two rushing attempts, and a pass attempt fell incomplete, forcing an 18-yard field goal attempt by Oscar Alvarez as time expired. Alvarez nailed the kick to put Natalia up 10-7 at the half.
The Mustangs received the kickoff to start the second half, but a 4-yard loss and an incomplete pass forced a 3-and-out.
A shanked punt gave Poth prime field position at the Natalia 36 yard line, and they didn’t waste it. Facing a 3rd-and 10 from the 34 yard line, the Pirates scored on a 34-yard pass. The extra point was no good, leaving Poth with a 13-10 lead.
Natalia took over at their own 34 yard line on the ensuing kickoff and proceeded to go on a long drive that saw Rizo pick up yardage in small chunks, as well as a 14-yard completion from Richardson to Jeramiah Castro, all while killing most of the time left in the third quarter. The drive stalled at Poth’s 24 yard line, and a 36-yard field goal attempt by Alvarez fell just short, leaving the Mustangs still facing a 10-13 deficit.
Poth put the game away on their ensuing possession. Starting from their own 20 yard line, the Pirates moved slowly but steadily down the field, picking up a big chunk of yardage thanks to a 34-yard pass. Faced with a 3rd-and7 from the Natalia 25 yard line, the Pirates connected on a 25-yard touchdown pass. A successful PAT gave them a 20-10 lead.
The Mustangs’ last meaningful drive of the game began at their own 25 yard line with 10:12 left in the game. An offensive chop block penalty immediately set them back 12 yards, but gains of 4, 11, and 7 yards by Rizo earned a fresh set of downs. Richardson scrambled for 8 yards and Rizo rushed again for another 12 to set the Mustangs up at the Poth 45 yard line. After an incomplete pass and a Rizo rush of just one yard, Richardson rushed for 7 yards, and Rizo picked up 11 yards on 4th-and 2 for a first down at the Pirate 26 yard line. Rizo immediately picked up another first down, but an illegal procedure penalty cost them yardage. Natalia went to the air facing a daunting 1st-and-28 from the Poth 33 yard line, and the pass was picked off by an opportunistic Pirate with just 5:24 remaining.
The Mustang defense didn’t give up, holding Poth to a 3-and-out and forcing another punt. Natalia took over at their own 42 yard line, getting a first down thanks in large part to a 27-yard completion from Richardson to Rizo, but three straight incompletions saw the Mustangs turn the ball over on downs at the Poth 37 yard line, and the Pirates ran out the clock to seal the 20-10 win.
“That loss was on me,” Graves said. “I did a poor job in having our kids prepared for all situations. That will not happen again.
“We have a 24 hour rule in affect here, win or lose. Monday we will attack the week with the right mindset and be prepared to play Nixon-Smiley on Friday.”
Making the loss harder to swallow was Natalia’s edge on paper.
The Mustangs had 344 total yards of offense, ran 57 plays, and had possession for 25:02, while Poth had 288 total yards of offense, ran 48 plays, and held the ball for 22:58.
Natalia rushed 35 times for 170 yards, and completed 13 passes for 174 yards. Rizo continued to carry the load on the ground, rushing 25 times for 144 yards. Richardson rushed seven times for 17 yards, Manny Padilla had one carry for five yards, and Caden Fregia ran twice for four yards.
Richardson was 12 of 21 through the air for 96 yards and an interception. Rizo was 1-for-1 for 76 yards and the Mustangs’ sole touchdown of the game. Zapata had one reception for 78 yards and a touchdown, Patino had three receptions for 38 yards, Rizo had three receptions for 36 yards, Castro had four catches for 23 yards, Julian Martinez had one catch for 12 yards, and Oscar Ramirez had one catch for 13 yards.
Alvarez was 1-for-2 on field goal attempts and converted his only point-after attempt to account for four of the Mustangs’ points.
Turnovers and penalties were the difference. Natalia turned the ball over twice, once on an interception and once on a fumble at the goal line, and had eight penalties for 62 yards. Poth had zero turnovers and was flagged for just five penalties for 55 yards.
Graves was clear about improvements that need to be made.
“Areas to get better on offense: be assignment perfect (must move the chains), eliminate the turnovers, and win the explosive battle,” Graves said. “Areas to get better on defense: eliminate the explosive plays, play fundamental defense, create turnovers.
“We are very excited to get on the field on Monday to clean up our performance from Friday.”
Natalia vs. Nixon-Smiley
This week sees a battle of the Mustangs, as Natalia welcomes Nixon-Smiley to town Oct. 20.
“Very big game for us this week,” Graves said. “We must put 4 great quarters together to beat them.”
Nixon-Smiley (2-6) enters the matchup on a three-game losing streak. The N-S Mustangs lost their season-opener to Hebbronville 27-6 before rebounding with consecutive wins over Three Rivers (30-14) and Sacred Heart (43-14) before losing to Cole (35-14) and Falls City (43-6), and opening District play last week with a 40-28 loss to Karnes City.
“Offensively we must control what we do, move the chains, and score 100% in the red zone,” Graves said. “We must take care of the football. Nixon-Smiley will run an even front and we expect them to bring 7, 8 and even 9 into the box. They have shown an odd front last week against Karnes City in the second half. We must be prepared, disciplined and execute against a stacked box and multiple fronts.”
Nixon-Smiley quarterback Colby Newman drew particular concern from Graves.
“Defensively, we must prepare to align to numerous formations,” Graves said. “They are very multiple and do a great job of getting their quarterback in space. He is a special type of player that makes plays week in and week out. He has a good supporting cast around him as well.
“We must find ways to put them in long yardage situations, get 11 helmets to the football, and create takeaways.”
Graves praised the turnout of the Natalia fans in Poth, saying, “It was awesome to see a packed house on our side,” and calling for another big showing this week.
“I encourage the Natalia faithful to come out to ‘Mustang’ stadium this Friday and be loud,” Graves said. “We have a great community with a special group of young men looking to do something amazing with their season. See all of you there!”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer