Injured Mustang motivation for teammates to continue on

TALE OF THE TAPE:

Mount Vernon Points For: 316

Mount Vernon Points Against: 256

Eldon Points For: 613

Eldon Points Against: 331

On September 20, everything changed for the Eldon football program.

The Mustangs were going about their normal routines on a Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the contest ahead on Friday night when junior Hunter Bushnell suffered a serious spinal injury. The injury was tough on the program, the school and the community itself, but each time the team takes the field on Friday night they think of No. 13.

“From there, everything just changed,” Eldon senior Austin Pipes said. “It was just in our minds that he wanted to be out there and win.”

And winning is exactly what Eldon has done. The Mustangs have not lost since a road trip to Blair Oaks on September 8, also a quarterfinal team, rattling off eight straight wins with an average margin of victory of 32.7 points. The Eldon Mustangs Sports Twitter account often uses the hashtag #ForOurBrother in honor of Bushnell and now, the Mustangs (11-1) find themselves among the best eight Class 3 teams in Missouri with an opportunity to go to the state semifinals when they visit Mount Vernon (8-4) on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m.

“It is everything. Anytime you commit this much time to something- I don’t care what it is, sports work family- you commit this much time at something you obviously want to be at the pinnacle which is a state championship,” Eldon coach Shannon Jolley said. “Being this close is rewarding for us, but we are definitely not satisfied. We always talk about playing for another week and that could not be more relevant right now.”

To make it to next week, Eldon looked to have another solid week of practice and for senior Cole Walker, it all comes down to accountability and making sure everyone knows their responsibilities and assignments.

“Our Tuesday and Wednesday practices have to be perfect and our pregame has to be perfect,” the senior said earlier in the week. “If we have that, I have confidence that our team will win.”

Jolley, for one, likes the way his club has gone about preparing so far this week and the coach said it has been business as usual.

“I’m pretty pleased with how we have been doing and the kids have responded pretty well,” he noted. “The only thing different for us is that we are getting on a bus and we have not had to do that for three weeks, but we are going to keep everything as close to being the same as possible.”

While Eldon has spent the entire playoffs at home so far, Mount Vernon has done exactly the opposite. The Mountaineers entered the district playoffs with three straight losses, but went on to win three straight road games to capture the district title as the No. 5 seed. After last week’s 30-28 win at Reeds Spring, Head Coach Tom Cox coined his team as the “Road Warriors” in a postgame interview with Ozark Sports Zone.

To get the job done, running back senior running back Sammy Robinson rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown while senior quarterback Ty Boswell added 53 rushing yards and two touchdown runs of his own. Mount Vernon also executed a blocked punt for a touchdown to hold off the Wolves.

Eldon likely already knew that though as Jolley noted that the team has watched plenty of film and the Mustangs were already a little familiar with their next opponent, having scrimmaged the Mountaineers earlier this summer at team camp in Branson. The only common opponent for both schools is a Springfield Catholic team that Eldon topped 38-13 and Mount Vernon beat 16-14 earlier this year.

“We feel pretty confident that we know our opponent, but on Friday night there are different things and different situations that can come up so we’ve prepared the best that we can and we’ll go down there and play,” the coach stated.

Mount Vernon will have plenty to prepare for as well with an Eldon team coming to town that has put up 4,805 rushing yards and 767 passing yards in 2017, averaging 464.3 yards per game.

A strong offensive line has allowed Eldon senior running back Isaiah Merida to lead the ground attack with 1,733 yards and 23 rushing touchdowns while junior fullback Isaiah Parsons has also eclipsed 1,000 yards with 1,273 of his own to go with 23 touchdowns respectively.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs have a dual-threat quarterback in junior Dawson Brandt who has been deadly with his arm and his legs. The junior gunslinger has tossed for 716 yards, 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions while dashing for 836 yards and another 12 touchdowns.

Through the air, Merida (209 receiving yards) and Pipes (153 receiving yards) have been the biggest threats with four touchdown receptions each and Walker has been a reliable tight end hauling in seven receptions for 130 yards and three touchdowns. Senior running back Trenton Dillon has also been a big threat with 406 rushing yards, 155 receiving yards and five combined touchdowns, which also includes an 85-yard kickoff return against Owensville last week.

Mount Vernon may employ a few playmakers, but the Eldon defense has shown it can respond and make a stand in the playoffs if the second half shutout of Springfield Catholic and stopping a high-powered Owensville offense on two of its three final drives is any indication.

Walker, a linebacker, and Brandt, a defensive back, lead the Mustang defense with 86 tackles each while Merida has put up 40 tackles as a defensive back and Dillon has recorded 36 at linebacker. Speaking of Dillon, the linebacker has been a disruptor in the backfield leading the team with 11 tackles for a loss that features 10 sacks. Eldon has also recovered three fumbles and Merida leads a secondary with four of the team’s 10 interceptions on the season.

“We have to control the clock and ball control is always important for us,” Jolley said of the keys to the game. “But they’ve (Mount Vernon) got a really good offense and we have to be as physical as we were last Friday night. We have to make sure we keep things covered up and adjust well on defense.”

The Mustangs and Mountaineers will kick off at 1 p.m., on Saturday afternoon and Eldon should bring plenty of energy and motivation with them to southwest Missouri with a trip to the final four on the line.

“We just want to make history. That is why we are here,” Pipes said.

Walker had just one word for what it would be like to make the state semifinals and be two wins away from bringing home the Class 3 state title.

“Priceless,” the senior said.