Marble Falls defenders swarm the ball on a gang tackle early in the first half against Taylor. Staff photo by Nathan Bush
In a back-and-forth game, with each team making big plays on both sides of the ball, the Marble Falls Mustangs (2-6, 0-3 district) were unable to come out on top, losing 42-26 on the road to the Taylor Ducks in a District 13-4A Division I contest.
“It’s not one side of the ball,” Mustangs head coach Brian Herman said. “We need to tackle better. We need to block better. We need to be cleaner on special teams. It’s not one thing, it’s a million things.”
Taylor opened the game on offense. Relying on the running of a strong stable of backs, the Ducks quickly found themselves on the 20-yard line in Mustang territory.
On the first play from the red zone, senior quarterback Ryan Valdez dialed up a deep pass to senior wide receiver Jarvis Anderson, giving Taylor a 7-0 lead.
The Mustangs responded with their usual gameplan of ball control and clock management. Unfortunately for Herman’s squad, the offense struggled to gain momentum and were forced to punt the ball away.
The Ducks offense failed to match the success of their defense and quickly punted.
With the Taylor defense dominating the line of scrimmage, Marble Falls looked for new ways to move.
The offensive experimentation paid off for the Mustangs with junior quarterback Kody Smith finding junior running back Jaime Castillo on a 48-yard wheel route to the 18-yard line.
Responding to the momentous catch-and-run by Castillo, senior fullback Jasael Ruiz showcased excellent ball carrier vision on the ensuing play, scoring on an 18-yard run and tying the game at 7-7.
With the first quarter coming to a close, the Ducks continued their balanced attack on offense. Capitalizing on a disoriented Mustangs defense, Valdez looked to his right and dumped the ball off to junior wide receiver Jacob Mikulenack on a wide receiver screen for a 20-yard touchdown, putting the Ducks back on top, 14-7.
Not letting the game get away from them, the Mustangs offense remained committed to establishing the running game behind the powerful legs of Ruiz. On a crucial third down to keep the drive alive, Smith once again gave the ball to Castillo, leading to a 43-yard touchdown on a swing pass and a 14-13 score after a failed point-after attempt.
Refusing to allow the Mustangs to enjoy any momentum, the Ducks answered quickly with a 44-yard touchdown on a pitch play by junior running back Jackson Meller.
The Mustangs responded with a lengthy drive highlighted by a 50-yard rushing play by Castillo to the left side of the field. After stalling on the goal line, the Mustangs were able to finally punch in it on a quarterback sneak by Smith. An unsuccessful two-point conversion to tie the game resulted in a 21-19 Taylor lead.
Appearing in the driver’s seat with under two minutes left in the half, the Marble Falls defense looked prepared to hold the line. However, that hope was short-lived, with Valdez throwing a dump-off pass to Anderson for a 67-yard touchdown play, pushing the lead to 28-19 entering halftime.
Starting the third quarter with the ball on offense, the Mustangs looked determined to pick up a score. Strong play by the Marble Falls offensive line, led by senior Kaden Roberts and junior Jeremiah Bales, made life easy for Ruiz as the Mustangs drove down the field.
On a broken play, Smith decided to tuck it and run inside the 10-yard line. The junior appeared short of a touchdown by about 4 yards, but a gang of Mustangs were able to push their quarterback into the endzone to narrow the Ducks’ advantage to 28-26.
“I keep pouring into them that we believe and they respond, but we need to be consistent,” Herman said.
After two negative plays to start the drive, the Ducks dropped back deep in their own territory looking for a way out. Appearing to be sacked by sophomore linebacker Brandon Guevara, Valdez managed to shake off the defender before scampering for a long first-down run.
The big scramble play had an obvious impact on the attitude of the Ducks players, as the team drove the length of the field behind the strong running of sophomore Andrias Fisher.
Finishing what he started, Valdez finally found paydirt on a 2-yard read option, putting the Ducks up 35-26.
After driving past midfield, the Mustangs offense stalled, leading to a fourth-down-and-long. Rolling to his right, Smith looked for open receivers but failed to find one in time before being taken down by senior outside linebacker Justice Tucker midway through the fourth quarter.
A big defensive stop on third down with less than five minutes left in the contest gave the Mustangs one last chance to turn the game on its head.
After marching down to a similar position on the field, the Mustangs ran into another pivotal fourth-down situation. With Castillo streaking to the end zone, Smith uncorked an overthrown ball, leading to an incompletion, effectively sealing the win for Taylor.
As the game dwindled to a close, Valdez found himself in the end zone one final time on a massive quarterback scramble to put the game on ice, 42-26.
The Mustangs take on the Lampasas Badgers (5-3, 2-1 district) in the final home game of the season on Friday, Oct. 28.
“We’re going to have to find a way to win,” Herman said. “It’s been a while.”