Mustangs notch school record 10th win and return to district title game

Eldon is going back to the district championship game. 

The  No. 2 Mustangs welcomed the No. 3 Fighting Irish of Springfield Catholic to Victor Field on a cold Friday night for a Class 3 district semifinal matchup and the home team walked away with a 38-13 victory to add a school record 10th win to the season. After outing Springfield Catholic in the district playoffs a season ago in a 32-0 shutout, the Mustangs held just a slim 16-13 lead at halftime. However, a dominant second half performance led Eldon to 22 unanswered points to seal it.

“In the first half we were not real excited about some of the mistakes that we made, but I could not be more proud right now of our kids and how they fought and came out in the second half,” Eldon coach Shannon Jolley stated. “These kids are not ready to be done. They are having fun playing with each other and we are just going to try to keep it rolling as long as we can.” 

Holding on to a slim 3-point advantage at the break, Eldon certainly played like a team that was not ready to hang up the helmets. The difference maker in the second half was simply remembering all the work the team has put in to make it to this point. 

“I think the difference started this summer,” Jolley said of his team’s second half success. “I think it started with the strength and conditioning and the preparation they put in the weight room and running. It started in team camp and these guys have been on a mission to do some things that maybe everybody else did not expect them to do. I could not be more proud and what you saw tonight was a product of what they started way back in the summer or even a year ago.” 

All that preparation got off to a good start Friday night. On the first drive of the game, Springfield Catholic’s offense went three-and-out after two straight sacks from senior Trenton Dillon who was assisted by senior defensive linemen Trent Bishop and Riley Pope. It was the first of two sacks from Dillon and Bishop as the Mustangs recorded seven total on the night. Senior defensive back Dawson Brandt and fellow senior linebacker Tanner Myers also got in the mix as well with a sack each.

“It is awesome because I know my guys are there with me,” Dillon said of the sacks. “It is not just me getting back to him, but I have all my teammates backing me up incase I slip up or miss a tackle.”

Springfield Catholic quarterback Tyson Riley came into the contest with 990 rushing yards (6.7 yards per carry) and 18 touchdowns on the year including 176 yards and four touchdowns against Osage last week. He did not find quite as much success Friday night. 

“I think the young man that plays quarterback for them is a talented athlete and a great football player, but I think our guys got slighted a little bit this week on defense,” Jolley noted. “A lot of talk was about him and specifically one player so we just tried to put so much emphasis on the team concept. I think they took a little shade to it so they came out and wanted to make sure that 11 (defensive players) was better than one (offensive player).” 

Following a successful defensive stint, the Eldon offense rewarded the defensive unit with a touchdown drive on its opening series. The Mustangs methodically moved the chains and wore down the Fighting Irish defense with run after run on a 13-play drive that went 41 yards and lasted nearly six minutes. Eldon junior fullback Isaiah Parsons finished it off with a 1-yard dive up the middle and Brandt added a quarterback keeper to make it 8-0. 

Springfield Catholic answered right back on the ensuing drive and marched 71 yards in just under five minutes as running back Heath Southwick punched in his first of two touchdown runs from a yard out. The Fighting Irish attempted to tie it up with a 2-point conversion, but Riley was met with a crushing hit from Eldon senior linebacker Cole Walker near the pylon at the goal line and was denied.

Both teams came up empty on their next drives, but Springfield Catholic caught a break when a short punt deflected off an Eldon player and the Fighting Irish recovered the ball at the Mustang 24-yard line. A few plays later, Southwick was back in the end zone on another 1-yard run to give his team a 13-8 advantage with 5:55 left before halftime. 

That play would be the final time Springfield Catholic got on the scoreboard though as Eldon punched right back with a 36-yard touchdown run from senior running back Isaiah Merida to regain the lead. Merida broke away to the outside after Pope cleared the way with a solid sealing block and Brandt found his running back Dillon for a short 2-point conversion pass to make it 16-13. 

Eldon had a chance to do more damage before halftime after a big Parsons run took Eldon to the Springfield Catholilc 18-yard line. The Mustangs proceeded to spike the ball with 3.9 seconds left, but a pass from Brandt to senior wideout Austin Pipes in the corner of the end zone could not find the mark as time expired. 

The missed opportunity would not go to waste as Eldon came out and found pay dirt in the opening drive of the second half. The Mustangs traveled 71 yards again and needed just over four minutes for Brandt to take an 8-yard quarterback keeper untouched up the middle. The lead was extended to 24-13 after a Parsons 2-point conversion and Eldon continued to roll. 

A 41-yard run from Merida led to Parson’s second touchdown of the night on a 1-yard run and senior running back Jordan Metz punched in the final score of the night with a 2-yard touchdown run of his own. As has been the case all season, Parsons was appreciative of his guys up front. 

“It was just a great team effort tonight and our chemistry was on point” said the junior fullback who rushed for a career-high 219 yards against Buffalo last week and went over the century mark for the fourth straight week with 107 yards Friday night. “Coach Jolley has them (offensive line) in the trenches all practice… and it just feels good to run behind guys that can do that and can impose their will on whoever they want.” 

Merida led all ball carriers with 165 yards on the ground to go with his score while Brandt put up 33 yards of his own to go with his touchdown. Brandt did not complete any of his four pass attempts, but the team’s 347 rushing yards on the night was more than satisfactory. 

“I just think they are separating themselves a little bit and it is one of the best offensive lines in Class 3. They take a lot of pride in that, we had our right tackle Jonathon Schoenfeld back in to start and there were a lot of positive things that kind of came together tonight,” Jolley said of the unit.

“We cannot say enough about those guys anyway. I mean, they’ve been working their butts off and I think they have such a great knowledge about what we are trying to do up front. It is probably one of the better groups that I’ve coached.” 

Meanwhile, Springfield Catholic’s three second half drives were stymied by sacks, tackles for losses or penalties that sent the Fighting Irish backwards facing long third and fourth down conversions. Springfield Catholic was held to 102 rushing yards on the ground and another 18 yards through the air for 120 total yards of offense on the night. 

“When we got into halftime we were all thinking that we were not going to lose this game. We have been practicing way too hard and we are not going to let No. 8 (Riley) beat us because that is who was giving us the most trouble,” Dillon said of the team’s defensive mentality. “We came out, stuck it out and shut them down.” 

Now, the Mustangs (10-1) will get another shot at the district title. Standing in the way is a familiar Owensville team (8-3) that claimed last year’s district crown over Eldon, but fell to the Mustangs 72-69 earlier this season in an offensive week two shootout. Both teams come into the contest on seven-game winning streaks and only one will get the chance to move on to the Class 3 state quarterfinals when the Dutchmen come back to Eldon Friday night.

Jolley and his program would certainly like to take that next step and continue playing football past next week.

“The thing it means to me and our staff is that it lets us know we are doing things the right way to continue to not only build, but build momentum and be better,” the coach said of returning to the district championship game. “We have a saying in our program that each year when the seniors leave, we expect to be better the next year. It is definitely not a slight towards them, but more of an encouragement to the younger guys. 

“If we are doing our job to develop and put kids in the right position through the years, each year we should be competitive if not a championship caliber team year in and year out. That is the expectations we have,” he added. 

Parsons, for one, is looking forward to the opportunity. 

“We are ready to go into this district championship game and just play our hearts out for another week. That is what we are going to do,” he said. 

The district title rematch is set to kickoff at Victor Field Friday night at 7 p.m.