The Natalia Mustangs bounced back from their first loss of the season with a 28-20 win over the Nixon-Smiley Mustangs last Friday, Oct. 20.
“It’s great to get back on track,” Natalia Head Coach Chad Graves said. “We had a great week of practice in preparing for Nixon-Smiley and it paid off.”
Natalia vs. Nixon-Smiley
Nixon-Smiley received the kickoff to start the game and had driven from their own 37 yard line to the Natalia 44 yard line when cornerback Matthew Contreras made the first of his two interceptions of the night.
Natalia (6-1, 1-1) took over at their own 30 yard line, and running back Ray Rizo took a handoff on the first play and dashed 70 yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 7:12 left in the first quarter.
Nixon-Smiley’s next drive started from their own 32 yard line. NS quarterback Colby Newman was the star of the drive, picking up 46 yards on the ground and 33 yards through the air, including a 24-yard touchdown pass on 3rd-and-20. Natalia blocked Newman’s point-after attempt to hang on to a slim 7-6 lead. Nixon-Smiley’s two lengthy drives had eaten up most of the first quarter, leaving Natalia with just 11 seconds left in the period at the start of just their second possession of the game.
Ryan Juarez received the kickoff and got a nice return, setting Natalia up at their own 37 yard line. Two runs by Rizo gave Natalia a first down at their own 48, but two incomplete passes and a Rizo rush of just one yard forced Natalia to punt less than a minute into the second quarter.
Nixon-Smiley (2-5,0-2) set up at their own 20 yard line and promptly busted an 80-yard touchdown run. Newman scored on the two-point conversion to put NS up 14-7.
This time the kick returner was Diego Zapata, who racked up 15 yards to give Natalia another possession starting at their own 37 yard line. After an offensive holding penalty left them facing a 1st-and-20, quarterback Dustin Richardson connected with Caden Fregia on a 62-yard pass. Rizo then scored from 11 yards out to tie the game 14-14.
From that point on, the two teams traded possessions for the rest of the second quarter and the entirety of the third. Natalia’s biggest play came from Contreras, who hauled in his second interception of the game at Natalia’s own 13 yard line, likely keeping Nixon-Smiley from putting more points on the board.
Natalia’s next scoring drive started from their own 20 yard line with 5:19 left in the third quarter. Richardson ran for 10 yards and a first down, and a defensive offsides penalty against Nixon-Smiley gave Natalia another first down at their own 46 yard line. Richardson hit Jeramiah Castro for 15 yards, and Rizo busted out a 39-yard run on 3rd-and-13 to give Natalia a fresh set of downs just three yards out from the end zone. Consecutive one-yard gains by Rizo and Fregia left Natalia facing a 3rd-and-1 at the 1 yard line to start the fourth quarter, and Contreras came through again, pushing his way into the end zone for a 21-14 lead.
After a touchback on the kickoff by Oscar Alvarez, Nixon-Smiley started at their own 25 yard line. After a three-yard rush by Newman, Devin Hester went 72 yards for a quick touchdown. Natalia’s defense came up huge on the two-point conversion attempt, stuffing the Nixon-Smiley ball carrier short of the end zone to retain a 21-20 lead.
Natalia scored once more to put away the game. After Juarez busted a 30-yard return to give Natalia a short field at the Nixon-Smiley 49 yard line, back-to-back offensive penalties left the squad facing a 1st-and-23 from their own 46 yard line. Richardson hit Fregia for a 15-yard gain, and after a rushing attempt was stopped in the backfield for a loss, Richardson connected with Rizo on a 48-yard touchdown pass to put Natalia up 28-20 with 8:50 left in the game.
Nixon-Smiley turned the ball over on downs at Natalia’s 20 yard line on their final possession of the game, and Natalia ran the clock out from there to secure their first District win.
“I was very happy with the effort and enthusiasm our kids played with this past week,” Graves said. “Nixon played hard and we just outlasted them.”
Nixon-Smiley won the possession battle, holding the ball for 27:51 seconds, thanks in large part to controlling the ball for all but a few seconds of the first quarter. Natalia had possession for 20:09.
Nixon-Smiley had five penalties for 30 yards, while Natalia picked up a whopping 11 penalties for 80 yards.
“Offensively we must eliminate the pre-snap penalties,” Graves said. “That really hurt us this past week.”
Natalia ran 43 plays, 13 fewer than Nixon-Smiley, but still racked up 415 total yards of offense while holding NS to 345 yards (82 passing, 263 rushing).
Each team had two turnovers, with Natalia losing a fumble and throwing an interception, and Nixon-Smiley giving up two picks.
“Defensively, we need to continue to play fundamental football,” Graves said. “Very excited with the two picks from Matt Contreras. They were huge in crucial points of the game.”
Richardson had a huge game, completing 12 of 17 passing attempts for 222 yards and a touchdown. Fregia had five receptions for 107 yards, Rizo had three receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown, and Castro hauled in four passes for 48 yards.
Natalia had 193 rushing yards. Rizo led the way with 177 yards and two touchdowns on 18 attempts. Richardson had 17 yards on three rushes, Fregia had two yards on three attempts, and Contreras finished with -3 yards and a touchdown on two attempts.
Alvarez converted all four point-after attempts. Rizo punted twice for a total of 54 yards, and Juarez had one 27-yard punt. Castro and Nikolai Patino each received a punt, with Castro getting a 10-yard return. Juarez received three kickoff returns and racked up 67 return yards, while Zapata had a 15-yard return on his sole kickoff reception.
Natalia vs. Stockdale
Next up for Natalia is a trip to Stockdale to take on the Brahmas.
“We will definitely have our hands full this week in Wilson County,” Graves said. “It’s going to be a heavy weight battle between two very good teams.”
Stockdale is 3-4 on the season, including 1-1 in District play. The Brahmas started well, notching wins over Yorktown (13-6) and Bloomington (32-12) before a three-game losing streak against Falls City (22-20), Yorktown (14-6), and Cole (39-20).
The Brahmas then beat Dilley 22-14 to start District, and are coming off a 42-0 drubbing by Poth last week.
“They are a clone of what we do week in and week out,” Graves said. “They are huge up front and their skill kids play fast.
“I am very excited to get on the field this Friday,” Graves continued. “If there is ever a time that we need our community support, it is right now. We must make the game in Stockdale feel like a home game! Please come out and be LOUD!!!”
To help with crowd turnout, Natalia ISD plans to take NHS students and adult Natalia residents to the game in a district school bus. Seats are $5.00 per person, and at least 20 people must be signed up to ride no later than noon on Friday, Oct. 27. The bus will leave from the main entrance of NHS at 5:00 pm on Friday. To sign up, call the NHS office at 830-663-4417.
The district also plans to provide a bus to take fans to the band contest on Saturday; see the Natalia Band story elsewhere in the paper for more information.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 pm.
By Marly Davis