STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
With 5 minutes 58 seconds left in the game and leading 7-0 over the Marble Falls High School football team, Fischer Canyon Lake settled into its slot-T offense and proceeded to run the ball and run out the clock.
After a 1-yard run and an incomplete pass for third-and-9, the Hawks (1-0, District 14-4A Division I) took a timeout then called on senior fullback Derek Wiatrek to ensure victory.
Wiatrek did just that as he had seven rushes for 62 yards in the drive. By contrast, two other Hawks each had one carry resulting in a 3-yard loss and a 1-yard loss.
Wiatrek’s final run went for 30 yards and forced the Mustangs (0-1, District 13-5A Division II) to use their last timeout. The Hawks ended the game on a kneeldown.
While the result was a loss, new Marble Falls head coach Brian Herman praised his players for their efforts and belief in the new schemes they’re learning, including the slot-T offense. Herman was hired in late April and spent weeks assembling the staff.
“Our kids played so hard,” he said. “They turned it on when the light came on. Obviously, we want to win every game we play. If they continue to trust us and let us put them in position, we’ll do really well.”
The Hawks took the lead by marching 68 yards for a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half. It came on a 16-yard pass to Wiatrek from junior quarterback Peyton McMillian. The extra point was good for a 7-0 lead with eight minutes left in the third quarter.
Wiatrek finished the game with 19 carries for 125 yards and one catch for a 16-yard touchdown. McMullen completed 4 of 9 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. The Hawks gained 188 yards on the ground.
Just when it looked like the Hawks were going to add to their lead on their next drive, junior defensive back Keaton Rodriguez recovered a fumble to give the Mustangs a chance.
That illustrated how close Marble Falls came to winning. To Herman, the Mustangs were one play from a victory and had a couple of opportunities to get it done, he said.
Marble Falls recorded two explosive plays, both on passes to senior receiver Brendan Sapp.
The first came on the first Marble Falls offensive play of the season when sophomore quarterback Jake Becker hit Sapp for a 34-yard gain.
The second came on the Mustangs’ third possession on third-and-19. Becker pitched the ball to running back Rodriguez, who took a step and threw the ball 39 yards to the receiver.
Sapp made a spectacular play. He was in double coverage and leapt to reach for the ball then fought for it with a defensive back as the two landed. Once the Mustang was on his feet, he ran for an additional 6 yards. The drive stalled because of penalties and a stingy Hawks defense.
Herman was pleased with Becker’s play, noting it’s not an easy task to take the field under the bright Friday night lights of Texas high school football, where every play is magnified.
“He’s going to be just fine,” the coach said.
Becker completed 3 of 9 passes for 57 yards and had seven carries for minus 2 yards, all unofficial.
Senior fullback Gabriel Barker had 16 rushes for 49 yards. Sapp caught two passes for 73 yards.
He also commended the offensive linemen, who were blocking a different front seven than what they had been practicing and facing during training camp.
During the game, coaches sat the unit down and drew plays on a white board to explain what the Hawks were doing. Herman was happy to see the players execute what they were told.
“We saw more push than catch,” Herman said, adding the offensive linemen were able to push the defenders backward as opposed to being pushed backward themselves.
Meanwhile, the Mustangs were equally stingy defensively. They, too, gave up only two explosive plays in the first half: two 17-yard passes.
Though the Hawks got a 17-yard pass completion on third down on their opening drive, it was 2 yards short from a first down, forcing Canyon Lake to punt.
The other 17-yard pass play came during the final drive of the half. But the Mustangs followed that up by allowing a 4-yard run, a negative run play of 8 yards, an incompletion, and a run play that resulted in a 1-yard loss.
The defensive line of seniors Sam May and Josh Whitecotton and junior Gabe Perez forced their wills on the Hawks and were ballhawks themselves. That allowed the linebackers and secondary to make tackles and strip the ball for attempted fumble recoveries.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen a better first game performance against a quality opponent,” Herman said of his unit.
The first half of this game was much different than the first half of the contest in 2018.
The Mustangs found themselves down 16-0 after the first quarter last season en route to a 22-0 loss.
This time, however, the defenses on both sides played like they were familiar with the offensive schemes and kept the game scoreless into intermission. Both teams utilize the slot-T offense, a run-based system that uses misdirection and confusion.
Herman said the Mustangs purposely didn’t show the explosive plays or the tweaks, saving them for games that really count.
His favorite part of the contest?
“I thought they took a big step in terms of physicality,” the coach said of his players. “I started to see that something. I’m excited about these kids. It was all there for the taking.”
Marble Falls travels to Burnet for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff Friday, September 7, at Bulldog Field, 1400 Bulldog Stadium. Catch the contest on KBEY 103.9 FM Radio Picayune or at KBEYFM.com beginning at 6:30 p.m. with the “Highland Lakes Coaches Roundup.”