Marble Falls junior linebacker Isaac Larranaga receives direction from head coach Brian Herman during the Mustangs 23-0 loss to the Fredericksburg Battlin’ Billies on Sept. 23. Staff photo by Nathan Bush
The Marble Falls Mustangs (2-3) struggled to stop the raucous running game and dominating defense of the Fredericksburg Battlin’ Billies (2-3) in a 23-0 road loss on Friday, Sept. 23, the last non-district contest for the Mustangs.
In addition, several key starters were out, hampering Marble Falls’ chances.
“The kids played hard,” Mustangs head coach Brian Herman said. “We had to overcome a lot tonight.”
After the Billies were stifled offensively on the first drive of the game, Fredericksburg senior punter Jovany Alva pinned the Mustangs on the 1-yard line. However, Marble Falls senior tailback Caleb Vidal got a massive gain to midfield on a run to the outside.
It was all for naught as junior Jaime Castillo fumbled the ball running to his right, giving Fredericksburg a 54-yard field to work with. Two plays later, Billies senior running back Jesse Leija broke several tackles on his way to a 39-yard touchdown on a counter play.
Field position continued to play a major factor early in the game, with Marble Falls starting another drive inside the 5-yard line after a poor catch on the kickoff. Deep in their own territory, the Mustangs went three-and-out deep, giving the ball back to the Battlin’ Billies halfway through the first quarter.
Leija continued to be a workhorse for Fredericksburg, battling his way to the 1-yard line on the ensuing possession. Billies senior quarterback Will Degenhardt dove across the line for the quick score to push the lead to 13-0.
With momentum on their side, the Battlin’ Billies attempted a fake punt run early in the second quarter. Mustangs junior Dax Murphy was able to stop the attempt, finally giving Marble Falls good field position and an opportunity to score.
The offense began to show signs of sputtering as the squad pushed past the Fredericksburg 35-yard line for the first time in the game. The drive ended with a failed fourth-down conversion on a scramble by Castillo.
Herman’s defense continued to struggle to contain Lejia. The senior running back displayed an overpowering blend of swiftness, shiftiness, and strength as the Battlin’ Billies marched toward the end zone.
A touchdown for the Billies appeared imminent, but the Mustangs caught a break after Degenhardt fumbled a snap inside the 10-yard line. Multiple defenders hopped on the ball, giving the Marble Falls offense another chance to get on the scoreboard.
Unable to do anything after the turnover, an unlucky punt by Mustangs senior Brian Beltran rolled backward to the 23-yard line. While Marble Falls was able to prevent Fredericksburg from scoring another touchdown, the Battlin’ Billies still added to their lead via a 36-yard field goal by Alva, going up 16-0 late in the second quarter.
Tired of Lejia dominating the ballgame, the Marble Falls defense stepped up its effort entering the second half, effectively shutting down the standout running back. The focus on Lejia forced the Battlin’ Billies to move the ball through the air.
Consecutive poor plays by Fredericksburg — a fumbled snap for a loss of 15 yards and a tipped punt — gave the Mustangs excellent field position late in the third quarter. The dominant defensive line of the Battlin’ Billies responded, though, shutting down any running lane for the Mustangs.
“We made some good adjustments at halftime,” Herman said. “If you look at the third quarter, we were shutting them down.”
The Mustangs had one final chance to try to put points on the board with five minutes left in the game. A failed fourth-down conversion on a pass play to the flats ultimately ended the game as the Billies continued to dominate time of possession.
Fredericksburg scored one last touchdown on a late run play by Lejia, giving him two on the night and pushing the final score to 23-0.
With no game next week, the Mustangs have an opportunity to rest and regroup as they prepare for the start of district in a road contest against Canyon Lake on Friday, Oct. 7.
“We have two weeks to take the kids that we have to get better,” Herman said. “The pieces are there. We just have to get better.”