By BOB CRAMER
Missed opportunities came back to haunt Mustang’s football team in its District 6A-1 opener Friday.
Three plays at the end of the third quarter provided the turning point as Norman North hung on to defeat Mustang 23-20 before a homecoming crowd of 7,500 at Bronco Stadium.
The Broncos led 14-13 in the last two minutes of the third quarter and were driving toward a touchdown as they reached Norman North’s 13-yard line.
A first-down pass glanced off bronco back Dominique Dunn’s hands in the end zone. The Timberwolves’ defense stiffened, and a 33-yard field goal by Kory Soulinthavong drifted wide left.
On the next play, Norman North struck for an 80-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jackson Remualdo to receiver Luke Switzer.
“We didn’t make the plays when they were in front of us to make,” disappointed Mustang head coach Lee Blankenship lamented.
“We had plenty of opportunities. Two passes dropped in the end zone, missed a pick six (interception for a score) and a missed field goal.”
Remualdo had only completed two passes before lofting a long aerial into the teeth of the south wind as Switzer ran past midfield.
Left wide open by a blown coverage in the secondary, Switzer had to come back for the under-thrown football, then outraced the Broncos to the end zone to give the Timberwolves a 20-14 lead.
Switzer, grandson of legendary Oklahoma Sooners and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer, caught four passes for 110 yards — the only passes Norman North completed.
It was the sixth straight win in the schools’ series for Norman North (1-3). Mustang dipped to 2-2.
“We had our opportunities,” Blankenship said. “Hayden (Conrad) threw some good balls, open passes, and we just couldn’t bring them in.”
Mustang also failed to capitalize on a potential game-changing interception and score midway through the second period when cornerback Wes Haddox dropped the “pick six” near the line of scrimmage at the Timberwolves’ 38.
First-half Mustang penalties and hard-charging Norman North junior running back Gabe Trevillison took a toll, but the Broncos cleaned up both areas and the game turned into a second-half defensive battle.
Trevillison had 154 yards and two TDs in the first half, including a 62-yard first-quarter scoring burst. He ended with 203 yards on 31 carries.
“Coach (Sam) Dollar and his staff did a great job,” Blankenship said of his defensive coaches’ adjustments. Norman North “was running a little inside zone play and just gashing us.”
Bronco defensive tackle Jett Woodward said Dollar “wanted us to be more physical with the guards and to get low when we felt the double-team so those guys couldn’t go block the backers.”
Mustang linebacker Judson Rowland added, “At halftime, they were running all over us. We adjusted our D-Line and they allowed the linebackers to make more plays.”
Norman North converted three times on third down during a 13-play, 49-yard drive late in the fourth quarter and took a 23-14 lead with 2:27 left on Brody Haralson’s 34-yard field goal.
The series used up seven minutes, five seconds.
Still, Mustang didn’t quit. Tristan Plumlee fielded a short kickoff and ran right, then lateraled to Khary Brown, who was streaking left, for a 49-yard return to the T-Wolf 29 with 2:10 left.
Conrad’s 15-yard pass to tailback Harvey Phillips and a personal foul penalty moved the ball to the Norman North 6.
Going with its power rushing package and Colt Humphrey at quarterback, it took the junior linebacker two plays and 30 seconds to find paydirt on a 3-yard run. A conversion run failed, but Mustang was within three points.
On the kickoff, Soulinthavong bounced a near perfect, high-hopping onside kick to the Norman North 45.
“I was right there. Several of our guys got their hands on it,” Mustang safety Liam Krivanek said.
Four Broncos touched the ball, Blankenship said, but Norman North’s Duncan Parham came down with it and dashed to Mustang’s 30 before being knocked out of bounds with 1:33 left.
Mustang used its timeouts to stop the clock as the defense made one last stand, stopping Norman North on downs at the Bronco 20 with 52 seconds left. But the offense was unable threaten.
Phillips rushed 17 times for 107 yards, including a 39-yard TD in the first quarter. The two-play drive was set up by Plumlee’s 43-yard kickoff return.
Mustang’s other TD came on tailback Devyn Martin’s 8-yard run in the second period. He rushed nine times for 43 yards.
Often under an intense pass rush, Conrad hit just 4-of-18 passes for 44 yards and one interception.
Defensively, Krivanek intercepted a two-point conversion pass on the first T-Wolf score and Rowland recovered a fumble at the Mustang 27 in the first quarter.