Stillwater toed the line and Mustang budged.
The Bronco defense couldn’t get off the field, allowing 14 third and fourth-down conversions, including two back-breaking plays in a 36-24 loss to the Class 6A-2 Pioneers at Bronco Stadium Friday.
Mustang (2-1) allowed 473 total yards as Stillwater (2-1) dominated time of possession, going 14-for-19 in make-or-break situations while rushing 59 times out of 77 plays from scrimmage.
“You have to get off the field when you get opportunities,” Mustang coach Jeremy Dombek said after the game. “From an offensive perspective, we ran the least amount of plays we have in many years and we didn’t punt one time… We were pretty worried that they were going to be able to run the football on us and they did. Again, we just couldn’t get off the field.”
Mustang committed multiple mistakes defensively, but none bigger than two missed assignments on fourth-down fake punts, once in the second quarter and again in the fourth.
Stillwater quarterback Garrett Leming (Jr.), who doubles as the team’s punter, hit a wide-open Michael Lauvetz (So.) for 41 yards on fourth-and-six from midfield, leading to a score and a 23-7 lead just before halftime. Leming again faked on Stillwater’s opening drive in the fourth, hitting Matt Stemm (Sr.) for 32 yards to set up a 36-17 lead and ultimately the win.
The Broncos were without four defensive starters, including Nebraska-commit defensive tackle Deontre Thomas (Sr.) and cornerback Darion Richards (Sr.) who were each suspended after being ejected from the team’s season-opener at Yukon.
“It’s huge,” Dombek said of missing two premier players and four altogether. “If Darion is out there they probably don’t complete those passes on those fakes. If Deontre is in there they probably don’t run with that much success. When you take out those guys out and lose guys, it hurts.”
Mustang was out for the count, having racked up just 222 total yards until Damian Close (Jr.) sparked a late resurgence. Close, who finished with four catches for 60 yards and a touchdown, returned a kickoff 68 yards for a score, cutting Stillwater’s lead to 36-24 with 11:22 remaining.
Defensive end Johnny Still (Sr.) recovered a fumble on the ensuing possession, setting the Broncos up for a potential comeback. After driving to the Pioneer nine-yard line, Mustang faced fourth-and-goal. Caden Arthur (Sr.) drew a pass-interference penalty however, under new rules set in place last year the Broncos were not afforded a new set of downs. Brayden Garrett (Jr.) missed Ping Harris (Sr.) on the following play from the four yard-line.
Stillwater running backs Josiah Castleberry (Sr.) and Tyler Disidore (Jr.) combined for 230 yards and two touchdowns on 41 carries, including eight of the team’s 11 third-down conversions. Leming finished 8-for-16 through the air for 142 yards and a touchdown.
“I told the guys this week that this could happen and it did,” Dombek said. “We’ll look at the film, but we just didn’t play very well. I thought we were ready and had a great week of practice, but they came out and hit us in the mouth and we never recovered.
“It’s frustrating, but we won’t let it define our season. The last time we got beat by Stillwater on our home field we went to the semifinals. So we’ll see what happens.”
Mustang opens district-play against Owasso (1-2) next week. The Rams were off with a bye after falling to Broken Arrow, 14-10 last Friday. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Bronco Stadium.