Mustangs trample Wolves to clinch playoff spot

Mustang defenders (left to right) Caden Fregia, Michael Martinez, Kameron Frias, Oscar Ramirez, and Matthew Manka line up against the Dilley Wolves. Photo by Brigid Howard.

Two long droughts came to end at Mustang Stadium last Friday night when Natalia beat Dilley 20-17. Not only was it Natalia’s first win over the Wolves since 2004, but the victory also guaranteed the Mustangs second place in District 15-3A DII and a trip to the postseason for the first time since a Bi-District loss to Navarro in 2003.
The Mustangs’ Bi-District opponents this year are the Skidmore-Tynan Bobcats (3-6, 2-2), whom they will face next Friday, Nov. 17 at 7:30 pm at the new Indian Stadium in Jourdanton. The Bobcats are the 3rd-place team from District 16-3A DII.
Natalia vs. Dilley
“Wow, what a game,” Natalia Head Coach Chad Graves said. “Obviously very excited to punch our ticket to the 2017 State Football Playoffs.
“The football game was as exciting as advertised. Both teams had to play their hearts out for four quarters.”
Dilley (4-5, 2-2) scored first, and in fact led for most of the game. The Wolves received the opening kickoff and scored on a 74-yard run just a minute into the game to take a quick 7-0 lead.
The Mustangs punted on their first possession, but a Dilley mistake on 4th-and-16 set Natalia up in prime field position at the Wolves’ 34 yard line. After running back Ray Rizo was popped in the backfield for a three-yard loss, quarterback Dustin Richardson completed an 11-yard pass to Jeramiah Castro and a four-yard pass to Diego Zapata for a first down. Rizo picked up another with a 12-yard run, and later punched it in from six yards out to tie the game 7-7 with 10:34 left in the first half.
The Wolves didn’t rest on their laurels, picking up 14 yards on the first play of their next possession. A pass interference call on the next play gave them 15 yards, and a 34-yard run put them in the red zone at Natalia’s 20-yard line. Dilley scored on a 20-yard on their next play to take a 14-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
Mustang Jacob Jass busted a 34-yard return on the ensuing kickoff to give Natalia good starting field position again. A 10-yard holding penalty pushed them back into their own territory, but after a five-yard offsides penalty, Richardson connected with Castro for an 18-yard gain. Rizo picked up another 10 yards, and when the drive stalled at Dilley’s 12-yard line, Oscar Alvarez nailed a 29-yard field goal to pull Natalia to 14-10 at the half.
The tide slowly started to turn in the second half. Natalia received the kickoff and picked up a first down thanks to offsides and holding calls on consecutive snaps that totaled 15 yards. Caden Fregia and Richardson tallied back-to-back four-yard runs, and Rizo got loose for 10 yards and a fresh set of downs. On 3rd-and-4, Fregia picked up six yards for another first down. Facing 4th-and-1 at the 1 yard line, Natalia elected to grab the points rather risk a defensive stand by Dilley, and Alvarez came through in the clutch again, this time hitting an 18-yard field goal to cut the Wolves’ lead to 14-13 with 4:34 remaining in the third quarter.
The teams traded punts before Dilley started their final scoring drive with 17 seconds left in the third quarter. The Wolves had prime field position at the Natalia 32 yard line, and after a 17-yard rush gave them a first down at the 15 yard line, a touchdown seemed likely. Instead, Natalia’s defense rose to the occasion, stopping two rushes in the backfield for a loss to force a 3rd-and-6 at the 11 yard line. Dilley opted to play it safe and kick a field goal, and though it increased their lead to 17-13, it was a win for the Mustangs.
Natalia (8-1, 3-1) took over at their own 45 yard line with 10 minutes left in the game. Pass interference gave them a first down, but a block in the back on the next snap made it 1st-and-20 at the 38. The Mustangs were in a tough spot after a three-yard gain and an incomplete pass, but Dilley bailed them out with another pass interference penalty. Granted a new lease on life, Richardson hit Zapata for an 11 yard gain, and Rizo turned in consecutive gains of nine, four, and three yards before Richardson rushed for five to give the Mustangs 1st-and-10 at Dilley’s 20 yard line. Fregia broke loose for 18 yards, then punched it in himself on the next play to give Natalia a 20-17 lead, their first of the game, with just 4:17 left to play.
Penalties hurt both teams in the final drive of the game. A 12-yard kickoff return gave Dilley good starting field position at their own 42 yard line, but an offensive chop block and an illegal procedure penalty pushed them back to a 1st-and-30 at their own 22. That might have been the game, but just one play later, Natalia picked up 15-yard personal foul penalties on back-to-back plays, giving the Wolves new life with a fresh set of downs at Natalia’s 38 yard line. The Wolves immediately picked up another first down on a 10-yard run, and on 2nd-and-5, completed a 15-yard pass inside the 10. A go-ahead touchdown looked imminent, but another illegal procedure penalty pushed Dilley back to 2nd-and-3 from the 8 yard line.
The next three plays were all Natalia. The Mustangs stopped Dilley for a loss of five yards, then a loss of seven yards, leaving Dilley facing 4th-and-20 with just seven seconds left in the game. Forced into a 37-yard field goal attempt to tie the game, Natalia defenders swarmed around both sides of Dilley’s offensive line, and Fregia came off the left side to block the kick and secure the 20-17 win.
“Our team had to make some crucial plays down the stretch and they made them,” Graves said. “W have talked about ‘finishing’ since last November when we were on the outside looking in at the end of the season. We have come a long way in terms of finishing games.”
Natalia had possession of the ball for 29:50, gaining 242 total yards of offense on 52 plays. Dilley had the ball for only 18:10 and ran only 32 plays, but still racked up 250 total yards of offense.
Neither team turned the ball over, but penalties were a problem, with Natalia getting flagged 10 times for 116 yards, and Dilley 16 times for 131 yards.
Richardson completed nine of 11 passing attempts for 89 yards. Castro had three catches for 45 yards, Fregia had three catches for 36 yards, Zapata had two for 15 yards, and Rizo lost seven yards on his sole reception.
The Mustangs had 153 rushing yards on 41 attempts. Rizo rushed 23 times for 74 yards and a touchdown, Richardson 10 times for 44 yards, Fregia seven times for 40 yards and a touchdown, and Matthew Contreras once for a five-yard loss.
Alvarez had another perfect game, converting two extra point attempts and two field goal attempts for eight points.
Ryan Juarez was a standout on defense, recording six solo tackles, including one for a loss. Matthew Manka had five solo tackles and one assist; Cristian Lara, Demetre Perez, and Michael Martinez each had three solo tackles; Zapata and Alvarez each had two solo tackles, and Fregia, Rizo, Isaiah Gomez, Manny Padilla, and Oscar Ramirez all had one solo tackle.
Additionally, Padilla assisted on five tackles; Perez on four; Kameron Frias on three; Ramirez, Zapata, and Lara on two; and Fregia, Contreras, Manka, Martinez, and Joel Rios on one.
Rizo and Manka each recorded a sack.
“I am very excited and proud of our kids and coaches,” Graves said. “I felt that our coaching staff had a great plan for all three phases of the game and I felt our kids executed that plan.
“I can assure you without a doubt in my mind that the community support with the excitement and energy from our stands played a huge factor in the outcome of the game. It was so loud it was hard to communicate. Our kids are still talking about the atmosphere! This is an awesome time for our football team, athletic program, school district, and community. I cannot thank our fans enough for the energy at the game. I am going to ask them all to continue to be a huge part of our success moving into next week and into the state playoffs!”
Natalia vs. Karnes City
The Mustangs’ final District game is this Friday in Karnes City against the Badgers (3-6, 1-3).
“Karnes City will be a great game to finish the regular season,” Graves said. “They have been in every District game this year. This will not be a game that we can take lightly.”
Karnes City has had a streaky season, starting with a 42-0 win over Kenedy before losing 31-13 to Cotulla, 21-0 to Randolph, and 14-12 to Poteet.
The Badgers then beat Bruni 27-6 and Nixon-Smiley 40-28 in their first District game before going on another three-game swoon, falling 32-26 to Dilley, 35-2 to Poth, and 14-13 to Stockdale.
“Although we have clinched the second place spot in the playoffs, we still have many things we need to improve on to send us to the eleventh game,” Graves said. “Karnes City has some pretty big boys up front on both sides of the ball. They return just about every skill player from last year’s team. They are playing good football right now and we must clean up our execution to win this game.
“To beat Karnes City we must win the take-away battle, win the explosive battle, force KC into long yardage situations, score 100 percent in the red zone, and win the kicking game.
“This should be an exciting game to play. I encourage our community to jump into the car and head over to help us finish District play!”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.
By Marly Davis
Staff Writer