Mustangs end historic season at 11-2
Eldon’s run has come to an end, but it was a run the players, coaches and fans will not soon forget.
The Mustangs (11-2) made a trip to southwest Missouri for a Class 3 state quarterfinal game at Mount Vernon (9-4) on Saturday, looking to punch a ticket to the semifinals next week. Eldon, which had already broke the school record for single season wins, entered the pivotal playoff game on an eight-game win streak against a Mount Vernon team that got hot in the playoffs with three straight wins of its own. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, a quick and stifling Mountaineer defense and a few key playmakers on offense proved too much to overcome in a 24-6 defeat.
A season-ending loss is never easy, but Eldon coach Shannon Jolley offered words of gratitude after the clock hit zero.
“It has been a tremendous experience. The time that I got to spend with these kids and coaches, I will never underestimate the importance of that,” Eldon coach Shannon Jolley stated. “It has been an awesome season for us in more ways than the football field can explain and I’m proud of the kids and the season that we had. We are fortunate to play this game, we have been blessed throughout the season with a good run and obviously it is Mount Vernon’s time to celebrate today.”
Although the final numbers on the scoreboard may not indicate it, the contest was much more hard-fought and closely contested than it may initially appear. On the first two drives, the two heavyweight prize fighters felt each other out.
Eldon took the opening kickoff and used 12 plays to march 62 yards to the Mount Vernon 18-yard line. However, the momentum halted on the next play when Eldon junior quarterback Dawson Brandt was stopped short on 4th-and-4 after trying to execute a bootleg run to the outside. After the turnover on downs, Mount Vernon began to gain some steam but was also stopped dead in its tracks on a 4th-and-2 run at the Eldon 47-yard line, thanks to a crushing tackle at the line of scrimmage from Eldon senior defensive lineman Riley Pope.
On the next pair of drives, both teams looked to go to the air. Eldon nearly took the initial lead when a deep pass from Brandt almost found its way into the hands of senior running back Trenton Dillon, who was streaking across the middle of the field. After the Mustangs went three-and-out, Mount Vernon ran a similar play with senior quarterback Ty Boswell looking for senior splitback Andrew Montemayor. The two Mountaineers were able to hook up on their turn though as a 63-yard touchdown pass put Mount Vernon up 7-0 with 1:27 to go in the first quarter.
It was those type of missed opportunities that would go on to haunt Eldon the rest of the day, but the Mustangs remained undeterred and continued to put up a fight.
“I think our kids are way too good of a group of young men to not be close at anything. I would not bet against them ever,” Jolley said of his team’s fight. “Mount Vernon outplayed us today and it was pretty simple, but yeah we had our opportunities come up. Those opportunities are not necessarily opportunities unless you take advantage of them, but every one of our kids deserves a lot of credit.
“If you watch, even in the NFL there are plays that are made and some come up short. Unfortunately for us, we came up short today.”
Once again, the Mustangs were on the move on the next drive as Eldon senior running back Isaiah Merida converted a 4th-and-2 run at the Mount Vernon 40-yard line. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, a pair of holding calls slowed down the momentum and Eldon was forced to punt it away. Then Mount Vernon responded with another big play on the ensuing drive as senior running back Sammy Robinson found a hole up the middle and took the ball 80 yards to the house on the first play to make it 14-0 with 5:36 to go in the second quarter. Mount Vernon was able to add on to its lead and tally three more points before halftime with a 34-yard boot from senior kicker Jayden Buttram.
Needing to make a stand on the opening drive of the second half, the Eldon defense manage to do just that. Mount Vernon was knocking on the door once again when junior linebacker Isaiah Parsons delivered a big sack at the Mustang 28-yard line to force a 4th-and-21 play that the Mountaineers were unable to convert.
Eldon was on the move again offensively, but a fumble on the handoff from Brandt to his fullback Parsons was recovered by Mount Vernon at the Eldon 48-yard line. A few moments later, Montemayor took a 50-yard screen pass to pay dirt to extend the Mountaineer lead to 24-0 with 4:51 to go in the third quarter.
“They are good players,” Jolley said of the dynamic duo in Robinson and Montemayor. “You don’t get to the quarterfinals without having good players so their good players played better than ours today.”
The mountain was steep for Eldon, but the Mustangs had no intention of going down without attempting to climb it. Eldon broke through on its next drive as Brandt found Dillon on the big pass play the two had narrowly missed in the first quarter. The 54-yard play action touchdown pass cut the Mountaineer deficit to 24-6 with 4:30 left in the third quarter, but it was the final time either team would score the rest of the night.
With time no longer an ally, an Eldon football team that loves to dominate in the run, averaging 400.4 yards per game, was forced to go to the air for most of the fourth quarter. The passing game had accounted for about 14 percent of Eldon's offense throughout the season and unfortunately for the Mustangs, they just could not find a way to sustain drives and move the chains.
They (Mount Vernon) did a really good job,” Jolley said of the opposing defense. “I don’t want to take anything away from what they did because I think they played us really well, but we did not play our best game today either and that is unfortunate. If we could have walked out of here with a loss and still felt like we played as well as we could’ve, it is still bittersweet but you can feel good about it.
“I feel like there are some things we left on the field and that is pretty disappointing, but it is a day-to-day thing and these are high school kids. The amount of work they put in well overshadows any shortcomings that we had on the field today,” the coach added.
Merida breached the century mark on the ground for the 11th time this season, finishing with 111 of the team's 158 rushing yards. The senior also broke a school record for single-season rushing yards in the process with 1,844, topping Sheyne Stafford's 2013 record of 1,792 yards. Merida was also just 154 yards short of the school's career rushing mark of 1,998 yards from Jeremy Bashore.
Meanwhile, other prolific Eldon rushers in Parsons and Brandt, who had surpassed or were nearing 1,000 rushing yards on the season, were held to a combined 55 yards on the day and Brandt completed four of his 12 pass attempts to four different receivers for 91 yards and a score.
On the defensive end, Eldon allowed 148 yards on the ground and another 171 through the air for 319 yards of total offense. The Mustangs had three sacks total from Dillon, Parsons and senior linebacker Cole Walker and senior defensive back Austin Pipes recorded an interception. Brandt, Walker and Parsons led the defensive unit with seven tackles each.
Among those kids who put in the work all season were the seniors who suited up for the Mustangs for the final time in their careers and Jolley said they will undoubtedly be missed. However, he envies all the relationships that were formed and can be enjoyed beyond the football field.
“I’ll miss them a ton, but I am fortunate that I get to see them every day in class. Our relationships are not just built around football,” he said. “We’ve got some tremendous relationships and I’ll get to see these guys every day, go be a fan of theirs in their winter sports and we’ll move forward like we always have.”
The coach was also appreciative of the support his club received at Mount Vernon and the dedication of the football parents.
“I want to give a special thanks to all the people that came and made this trip possible,” Jolley pointed out. “From all the parents that helped us this year, we just had a great group of fans and you don’t want to disappoint, but I was sure proud to be an Eldon Mustang today with all of our support. That means more than anything.”
Another season is in the books, but the motto for this team is to always be better than they were the previous season and Jolley is looking forward to what his returning players can do in 2018 after a milestone season that saw school records shattered and another district championship.
“I think they are going to be a fantastic football team and sure, they can reach the quarterfinals or go further,” Jolley said of his returning guys. “That is the plan and how we look at it. Those guys have some big shoes to fill, but with 250 to 300 days they can work hard and do it if that is what they are looking forward to doing. We are looking forward to those guys coming up and doing good things.”