Mustangs claim revenge in high-scoring rematch of district title game
The end zone was not a difficult place to find when Eldon and Owensville got together on the gridiron Friday night at Victor Field.
In a rematch of last year’s district title game that ended Eldon’s 2016 season, the Mustangs and Dutchmen put on an offensive clinic that saw the two sides combine for a total of 141 points. When the dust settled and the clock hit zero, this time it was the Mustangs who were left standing in a 72-69 shootout victory for the home opener.
In the preseason Missouri statewide media rankings, Owensville was ranked No. 6 in Class 3 while Eldon had received some top 10 votes. Going into the season, Eldon coach Shannon Jolley knew his club had some potential and they certainly did not prove him wrong on Friday night.
“This group of kids have really been committed to each other. It has been a lot of fun in the offseason getting ready for this year,” the coach remarked. “There is just something a little different about them and I think that was on display tonight. For them to continue to work like that and for us to score that many points is a little crazy. Just to have the confidence in what we do and stay with it was pretty amazing and amazing to be a part of.”
Both sides had one player that traded most of the punches in this heavyweight prizefight throughout the night. On one side was Eldon senior running back Isaiah Merida who dashed for 337 of the team’s 550 rushing yards and seven of the team’s nine total touchdowns. On the other, was Owensville senior quarterback Wyatt Ellis who rushed for 223 yards and eight touchdowns of his own while throwing for 177 yards and another touchdown respectively.
Ellis may have won the touchdown battle, but Merida and the Mustangs won the war and the senior workhorse said he was thankful for his teammates and coaches for helping make his successful night possible.
“We knew it was going to be a fight and the coaches knew it was going to be a fight. It was an all-around good game,” Merida stated. “Huge thanks (to the offensive line) and huge thanks to the coaches for prepping our offense during practice, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Surprisingly, the night began with a punt after Owensville went three-and-out on its first drive. Then, Eldon landed the first blow on a 14-yard touchdown from Merida with 7:18 left in the first quarter. The Mustangs missed the extra point and decided to go for two-point conversions the rest of the way. That decision worked out just fine for Eldon as it converted all eight of its following two-point conversions.
The Dutchmen quickly answered back with a 6-yard quarterback keeper from Ellis to make it 7-6 and quickly made it 13-6, after an Eldon three-and-out, on a 10-yard dash from senior running back Tanner Rector. On the ensuing kickoff Merida accidentally stepped out at his own 12-yard line, but quickly made up for it with an 88-yard touchdown scamper down the sideline on the following play to put the Mustangs up 14-13 at the end of the first quarter.
Owensville went right back to work in the second frame as Ellis launched a 35-yard strike to senior wideout Dustin Faragher put the Dutchmen up 21-14. After an Eldon fumble on the following series, Owensville capitalized immediately with a 19-yard touchdown run from Ellis on the first play and soon extended that lead to 34-14 on another scramble from Ellis that went 26 yards to the house.
Staring at a 20-point deficit with seven minutes left in the half, the Mustangs were anything but deterred. While the Dutchmen stayed hot with a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs from Ellis before the half, the Mustangs continued to answer. Eldon junior running back Isaiah Parsons punched in a 2-yard touchdown run and Merida flew past Dutchmen defenders once again for a 60-yard touchdown to keep the Mustangs in striking distance with a 46-30 deficit at the half.
“I think that is a reflection of our coaching staff. Our coaches understood that we were still in the game and we had a lot more to offer,” Jolley noted. “That is a part of leadership that you work on and you got to have commitment when things are going good and when they are going bad. The kids did not give up, but I really attribute it to a lot of our coaches in helping our kids prepare daily. Not just physically, but mentally to keep their head in the game and trust the system that we have in place.”
Eldon picked up right where it left off and came out swinging. Merida found an opening along the right side and outran the Owensville defense for a 59-yard score on the second play from scrimmage.
“You just can’t give up,” Merida said of the comeback effort. “It is not an option.”
Owensville needed just over three minutes for its next scoring drive that saw Ellis cross the goal line on yet another quarterback keeper that went for two yards. The Mustangs faced a 4th-and-4 on the next series, but decided to keep the ball as Eldon executed a fake punt that saw senior running back Trenton Dillon capture the first down and some extra yardage on a 46-yard run. Merida did not let it go to waste either as he quickly scored on a 19-yard touchdown for his fifth of the night.
Once again, the two sides traded blows as Ellis found the end zone on a 17-yard run and the Mustangs caught another break on fourth down. With a low snap and Dutchmen in his face, Dillon found a way to get the punt off that was mishandled by the Owensville returner to put Eldon back in business. A 35-yard run from Dillon, who finished with 127 rushing yards, followed by a 24-yard touchdown run from Merida cut the deficit to single digits. Suddenly, Owensville’s lead shrunk to 61-54 by the end of the third quarter.
Then the Mustang defense turned the tide of the game as the unit forced two straight three-and-outs. After wearing down the Owensville defense with the ground game, Eldon decided to go to the air and junior quarterback Dawson Brandt connected with a streaking Dillon across the middle of the field for a 79-yard score to give the Mustangs their first lead since early in the first quarter.
Ellis was not done yet though as he put up his ninth touchdown of the night on a 15-yard run to make it 69-62 Owensville. However, the legs of Merida and the offensive line continued to churn and the senior would not be denied as he punched in another touchdown on 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 40.3 seconds remaining. He gave the Mustangs the lead for good on the following 2-point conversion.
“For them to continue to dig down and get one more block was impressive,” Jolley said of the offensive line. “There were times where we were getting beat up front, but we talked to our skill guys and it is their job to make plays sometimes too. It is never perfect, but when you work as hard as we did tonight you have a really good shot.”
That shot to win it was more than enough incentive for Eldon’s defense. Starting at his own 33-yard line with 30 seconds to go, the end zone quickly faded out of sight for Ellis as the Owensville gunslinger was sacked at his own 5-yard line by the linebacker Dillon. On 4th-and-48, senior linebackers Tanner Myers and Cole Walker took down Ellis for a safety to create the final margin. Then junior Landon Wall recovered the onside kick to seal it.
“I could not have done it without my outside linebacker Trenton Dillon,” Myers said of the safety. “He forced him in and when I went around the edge he was right there.”
As tough as it was to keep Ellis contained, Jolley was glad to see his guys follow through.
“When you get backed up like that and get a couple of sacks, it is hard to dig yourself out. Fortunately for us, our kids kind of maintained their pass rush integrity and did some things to at least keep everything in front,” the coach said. “It was a total team effort all the way around in all three phases of the game and I could not be more proud.”
Jolley also offered a few words of praise for the Dutchmen quarterback that gave his team fits most of the night.
“He is one of the most explosive players I’ve seen in a long time. The thing that is impressive to me, from what I understand, is that he is as good a young man off the field as he is on the field,” the coach said of Ellis. “I was not cheering for him tonight, but I’ll be cheering for him when we are not playing him. Coach (Dale) Long has done a good job over there and we were fortunate to get one tonight, but it could have went either way.”
Myers, having a chance to catch his breath and reflect on what had just happened, agreed.
“They are a great team. They hit hard, play good and gave us a great competition,” he said. “I think it is really humbling to the whole team that we got to play them again and win.”
As much excitement as week two provided, Jolley and his team know there is still a long road ahead. However, it is safe to say they have earned a little rest.
“That is a game for the ages and that is one we’ll be feeling until the end of the season. A lot of people are going to be excited about a week two victory and I’m just going to go back and check the kids and make sure that week two victory does not cost us down the road for some of our health,” the coach noted. “We have to make sure and back these kids up and have them ready for next week, but let them get a chance to heal up because that was a unique situation to be in for sure.”
Eldon (2-0) will look to stay perfect when the Mustangs welcome Southern Boone Friday night at 7 p.m.