Burnet junior Grant Jones barrels through open space as the Marble Falls defense chases the speedy playmaker. Photo by Martelle Luedecke/Luedecke Photography
The Burnet Bulldogs (4-3, 1-1 district) prevailed in a hard-fought District 13-4A Division I rivalry game against the Marble Falls Mustangs (2-5, 0-2 district) winning 28-14 in the Battle for Burnet County at Mustang Stadium.
“We have a lot of soul searching to do,” Marble Falls head coach Brian Herman said.
After stifling the Burnet offense on the first drive, the Mustangs appeared to be in the driver’s seat in the opening minutes of the game.
Marble Falls followed that strong defensive effort with a 57-yard drive capped off with an 8-yard touchdown run by junior tailback Dominic Fierro, giving the Mustangs an early 6-0 advantage after a failed two-point conversion on a quarterback sneak by junior quarterback Kody Smith.
Responding instantly, Burnet junior Grant Jones returned the ensuing kickoff for a 97-yard touchdown, shifting the momentum of the game and giving the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead.
“We needed to control momentum, and we did not,” Herman said. “It was no different from last week (against Canyon Lake).”
After allowing the gut-wrenching kickoff return for a touchdown, the Mustangs failed to assemble a positive drive as the Bulldogs capitalized on the energy created by Jones.
Choosing to get creative, Burnet head coach Brian Wood dialed up a halfback pass on a toss play to Jones, and the junior playmaker found senior wide receiver Braden-Ellet Clark on a deep bomb down the middle of the field. Appearing to be touchdown-bound, Ellet-Clark coughed up the ball on the 2-yard line after junior safety Jaime Castillo punched it out and recovered it on the turf.
Ninety-eight yards away from paydirt, Marble Falls failed to make it past the shadow of their own goalpost, punting the ball once again and giving the Bulldogs excellent field position to start their next drive.
Opting for a balanced approach in the second quarter, Burnet utilized junior wide receiver Trenton Park and junior running back Dash Denton on a 47-yard touchdown drive. Senior running back Jose Rodriguez ran it in from 8 yards out to give the Bulldogs a 14-6 lead.
On the subsequent possession, Castillo appeared poised to impact the game. Breaking tackles and lowering his shoulder, the junior halfback was able to fight for positive yards on several plays.
After seemingly taking the passing game over the ground game, Castillo stretched the ball out for more yardage on a first-down conversion and was tackled by a mob of Bulldogs defenders, fumbling the ball midway through the second quarter.
Luckily for Marble Falls, the Bulldogs were unable to capitalize on the turnover. The game slowed down as the first half drew to a close, with a last-second effort by Park before being taken down inside the 20-yard to end the half.
Similar to their performance against Kerrville Tivy, the Mustangs came into the second half with new life, running the ball seemingly at will against the Burnet defense.
Holding the ball for over six minutes on a 65-yard drive, junior fullback Jasael Ruiz punched in a 3-yard touchdown to cut into the deficit. A successful two-point conversion evened the score at 14-14.
With a shift in scheme, the Bulldogs responded by running an abridged version of the Mustangs offense, relying on punishing the interior of the Marble Falls defense with a multitude of designed runs by Denton, Rodriguez, and Jones while also chewing up the clock.
After driving the length of the field to the 14-yard line, Jones got the ball for an outside run to the left side. With nowhere to go, he reversed direction, running backward for multiple yards before traveling toward the other sideline.
Unable to react, the Mustangs failed to stop Jones as he descended to the opposite pylon, scoring on a miracle touchdown to push the Bulldogs ahead, 21-14.
Building off of the momentum created by Jones’ run, the Burnet defense stiffened as penalties woes plagued Marble Falls. The stifling defense forced Marble Falls to gamble on a fourth-down conversion at midfield, handing the ball to Ruiz in hopes of a 3-yard gain to keep the possession alive. A mob of Bulldog defenders gang tackled the junior fullback, giving the Burnet offense another short field to work with.
Keeping with the shift toward the running game and ball control, Wood continued to utilize his backfield to wear down the opposing defense. A 3-yard run by Denton midway through the fourth quarter gave the Bulldogs a 28-14 lead.
Becoming desperate, the Mustangs opted to go to the air as the game came to a close, but Burnet’s Jones intercepted an errant Smith pass on fourth-and-13 on the 28-yard line.
The Mustang defense delivered its final stop, affording their offense a chance to make a storybook comeback with less than four minutes to go in the game.
Dropping back, Smith threw a deep bomb downfield to Castillo but was intercepted by Burnet sophomore cornerback Lew Laidler to end the contest.
“I’m tired of saying the same thing every game,” Herman said. “We’re better than we’re showing. I believe it. We need the kids to believe it.”
The Mustangs will look to break their four-game losing streak on the road against the Taylor Ducks (3-4, 0-2 district), while Burnet aims to continue their winning ways against the Canyon Lake Hawks (3-3, 2-0 district) at Bulldog Stadium. Both games are Friday, Oct. 21.