Mustangs continue historic season with trip to Class 3 quarterfinals

Eldon coach Shannon Jolley describes his team as a family.

Things have not always been perfect in this football family, but the coach said that his players are always there for each other and good things can happen as a result. Something good happened for the family Friday night at Victor Field as the Mustangs captured their first district championship since 2013 with a 70-53 win over Owensville.

“We talk about it sometimes and sometimes people use the term loosely, but I do think they developed a family. We kind of joke that it is a dysfunctional family at times, but it is still our family,” Jolley said of his club. “I’ve been really proud of that. They really care about each other and it always works out in the end that they’re on the same page. When you have people watching your back and doing what these kids do, you’re bound to have success and that is what has been the most fun for me.”

After losing twice to Owensville last year including a 47-27 loss in the district championship at Owensville, the Mustangs bounced back with a 72-69 shootout win over the Dutchmen in week two and would not be denied Friday night in the district championship rematch.

“It means a lot and I felt like we redeemed ourselves,” Eldon senior Isaiah Merida of capturing the district crown. “You prepare all week and that feeling on the inside, it is like no other feeling you can get anywhere else.”

“We got our revenge and that is all that matters,” added fellow senior Austin Pipes.

Thankfully, Eldon did not exactly have to score 72 points this time around to get the job done. In what was seemingly poised to be another shootout with the Mustangs holding on to a slim 54-45 lead after the third quarter, Eldon managed to slow down the Dutchmen and finish strong over the final 12 minutes of play.

“I think Owensville was obviously a better team than us last year. We had a little bit of momentum going in so you never know what can happen,” Jolley posited. “We knew that Owensville was going to bring their ‘A-Game’ and going to be a quality opponent, but this year we felt like we were a better team.

“You get it in ways you don’t know and it does not always work out exactly like you want, but we were confident going in. Definitely not overconfident, but confident that we could compete and if we needed to take the game in the fourth quarter we could.”

The game was certainly up for grabs early. Unsurprisingly, the two sides traded touchdowns on 10 straight drives before Eldon finally made its stand.

Eldon was on the move early as the Mustangs received the opening kickoff and a big 20-yard run from junior fullback Isaiah Parsons had the Mustangs knocking on the door. However, a rare fumble from Parsons just a couple of plays later gave Owensville the ball at its own 16-yard line and the Dutchmen responded with an 84-yard drive that saw senior quarterback Wyatt Ellis run in a 12-yard option-keeper touchdown to go up 6-0.

“Isaiah Parsons does not make very many mistakes so the mistake he made was a shocker to everybody,” Jolley said. “You can just write that one off. If he is doing something it is because he is working as hard as he can and when those mistakes happen, they just happen and you roll on. The kids were like, ‘We got you’ and that is what they’ve been talking about the whole season.”

Turns out, Parson’s teammates did have his back. After that initial turnover, Eldon did not fail to find the end zone the rest of the night scoring on its next nine drives until the team went in victory formation with a kneel-down to run the clock out.

Eldon totaled 531 yards on the night with 500 of those yards coming on the ground and the only pass attempt of the evening resulted in a touchdown. The Mustangs were also successful with 2-point conversions, converting eight of nine attempts for an impressive 88-percent success rate.

Merida, who put up a school-record 337 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in the previous meeting against Owensville earlier this year, was just as effective Friday night with 199 rushing yards and four touchdowns on runs of 41, 38, 22 and six yards respectively.

Junior quarterback Dawson Brandt also found the end zone on a 33-yard bootleg run totaling 125 rushing yards, Parsons blasted his way through the line on a 1-yard touchdown run as part of his 78 yards and sophomore running back Clayton Moore hit pay dirt on an 11-yard touchdown run on his only carry of the night. Senior running back Jordan Metz also provided fresh legs with 87 rushing yards of his own.

“I’m really proud of them,” Merida said of his offensive line. “We did not really try to change anything and obviously it worked the last time so I just kept running hard and I thank my guys up front and the coaching.”

Another Mustang who had a big night in the end zone was Pipes.

On the final play of the first quarter, the senior wide receiver was on the receiving end of a 31-yard touchdown strike from junior quarterback Dawson Brandt to put Eldon up 16-6. Pipes came up with the catch despite being dragged down simultaneously by an Owensville defender.

“It was huge because our coach kept on talking about how it was going to be open and it was open,” the senior said of the key play. “It worked.”

Then the senior made a big play defensively as a defensive back. Owensville was targeting him all night, looking to get the ball to one of its most reliable receivers in senior receiver Sean Irwin who finished the night with two touchdown receptions. The Dutchmen looked towards Pipes again early in the fourth quarter, but the senior pulled down an interception in the end zone and effectively killed any remaining momentum the visitors may have had.

“We were in zone (defense) so I had outside leverage and just had to pick it up. I was getting burned all night so I had to pick it up and I had to do it for Trenton Dillon who was getting on me all night,” Pipes said with a smile.

Speaking of Dillon, the senior running back and linebacker also made a couple of key plays on both sides of the ball for the Mustangs. After Owensville cut the deficit to a single point at 46-45 midway through the third quarter with a touchdown drive that saw the Dutchmen convert a 4th-and-6, 4th-and-5 and 4th-and-2 play, Dillon sacked Ellis on the 2-point conversion attempt to preserve the lead. On the ensuing kickoff, he flew past Dutchmen for an 85-yard kickoff return touchdown to give the Mustangs more cushion.

“I knew the game was really close so I was like, ‘We have to pick it up.’ Once I saw that hole on both the stop and the return, I hit it as hard as I could and did it for my team,” Dillon said of the momentum-changing plays.

However, Owensville certainly did not go down quietly on a night where Ellis completed 40 of his 61 pass attempts for 468 yards and four touchdowns to go with two more rushing touchdowns for six total. The Dutchmen also rushed for 197 yards as a team to finish with 665 total yards on the night, but came up empty on two of its final three drives in the fourth quarter.

“They just kept playing,” Jolley said of his defensive unit. We knew they (Owensville) were going to be good and when you get in a short-yardage situation it was tough to stop them period. If you got them in anything from third or 4th-and-2 and below, it was dang near impossible to get a stop with somebody that athletic (Ellis) who can do different things in the run and pass. Fortunately for us, we made the stops that we needed to.”

Brandt, who also plays defensive back for Eldon, led the Mustangs with 18 total tackles on the night while sophomore defensive back Logan Hall finished with 11 and both senior linebacker Cole Walker and Pipes recorded 10 tackles each.

Senior linebacker Tanner Myers finished his night with just one assisted tackle, but the senior made one of the biggest defensive plays of the night. With Owensville trailing by nine at the start of the fourth quarter, Myers delivered a hit on Ellis on 4th-and-7 near midfield and caused the quarterback’s pass to go incomplete for a turnover on downs. Moments later, Merida extended Eldon’s lead to 17 with his 22-yard touchdown run.

“You work all night to get to him (Ellis) and it is definitely not easy so when Tanner had the shot on him in the back when he was throwing the ball was as big as anything for us. That puts a thought in the quarterback’s head,” Jolley stated.

“We told our guys that we did not expect to get to him early. We thought if we were going to get to him or put pressure on him, it would probably come later in the game when some fatigue set in or something like that. Tanner has worked his butt off this year and for him to have a big play like that is indicative of how hard he has worked.”

Now, Eldon’s historic season will continue for at least another week. The Mustangs (11-1) had already broken the school record for wins in a single season with last week’s victory over Springfield Catholic and up next is the Class 3 state quarterfinals. Eldon will visit a Mount Vernon team (5-4) that knocked off Reeds Spring 30-28 to win a district championship as the No. 5 seed.

Eldon has been to the state quarterfinals twice before under Jolley in 2012 and 2013, but now the Mustangs will have an opportunity to reach the state semifinals for the first time under his tenure. The coach said his team is a little familiar with Mount Vernon, having scrimmaged the Mountaineers earlier this summer during team camp in Branson.

“They are very well-coached and obviously they are very talented if you get to the quarterfinals,” the coach noted. “We had a couple of good scrimmages with them. We got after it down there and got loose a little bit so I’m excited for it. It will be kind of a fun reunion since we spent time at team camp together.”

Dillon, for one, will not be taking the challenge lightly.

“We have to have a better week of practice. This week we had a very good week of practice, but next week we have to work even harder because Mount Vernon is a good team,” he said.

Eldon and Mount Vernon will clash on Saturday at 1 p.m.