Missed opportunities plagued the Mustang Broncos.
Penalties, mistakes, and one too many empty possessions led to a 24-21 home-opening loss to the Class 6A-II Deer Creek Antlers Friday night.
The Broncos fought back with a potential game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, but a final turnover sealed what could have been a different outcome if not for wasted chances, especially deep in the red zone.
“That’s the difference in the game,” Mustang coach Lee Blankenship said.
Mustang drove inside the Deer Creek 10 yard-line three times during the game and came away with zero points on all three possessions. The Broncos were stopped on fourth down from the two and six yard-lines in the second quarter and once from the nine in the third.
“We’ve got to grit our teeth and get the touchdown in those situations,” Blankenship said. “Those are big ones, especially when you have it deep down there and don’t get punch it in.”
The Broncos still found themselves in Deer Creek territory late in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie or win the game.
Mustang quarterback Tristen Russell (Sr.) scrambles away from pressure during the Broncos’ 24-21 loss to Deer Creek Friday night. Russell passed for 362 yards with two touchdowns. (Photo by Shelly Holinsworth)
Senior quarterback Tristen Russell, who went 24-for-38 for 362 yards with two touchdowns, connected with seniors Jacobe Johnson and Keegan Bass on three passes for 40 yards to set the team up at the Deer Creek 37 yard-line.
However, after scrambling from pressure, Russell narrowly missed Johnson on a play that would have put the Broncos within field goal range. The pass was picked off by Antler defensive back Teddy Amorosi to seal the game.
“You can’t fault Tristen in that situation,” Blankenship said. “He’s a kid that doesn’t turn the ball over and he was just trying to make a play. He was looking for (Johnson), who has been good for us for a long time, and it just didn’t fall our way.”
Mustang battled out of a 21-0 deficit following a Deer Creek touchdown on the first drive of the second half.
An interception by senior linebacker Hudson Conrad set up the Broncos’ first score – a three-yard run by senior Jay Bedford with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter. Bedford finished with a game-high 97 yards on 22 carries and eclipsed the 100-yard mark overall with a seven-yard reception.
After forcing a turnover on downs inside the red zone on the following possession, the Broncos marched 80 yards and cut the lead to 21-14. Russell hit Bass for a 13-yard touchdown pass to cap the drive.
Mustang’s defense, which performed “really well all night long” according to Blankenship, came up big once again, halting Deer Creek with a third-down stop at its own 28 yard-line and forcing the Antlers to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Adrian Arambula. The Broncos allowed only 332 yards total, including just 61 on the ground, and forced two turnovers.
Mustang’s defense brings down Deer Creek running back Deontaye Wilson during the team’s 24-21 loss to the Antlers Friday night at Bronco Stadium. The Broncos allowed just 61 yards rushing. (Photo by Shelly Holinsworth / Freelance Action Photography)
The Broncos capitalized on the stop, capping a seven-play, 80-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass from Russell to Johnson. The strike cut the deficit to 24-21.
Bass and Johnson were dominant for a second straight game.
Bass, an Air-Force commit, finished with a game-high and season-high 159 yards on 11 receptions while Johnson, an Oklahoma-commit, caught six passes for 131 yards. Both saw looks against Dale Miller, who is heading to the University of North Carolina.
Senior Pryce Burgess and junior LeBryan Hayes also played a factor for Mustang’s offense, which outgained Deer Creek 527-332. Burgess rushed nine times for 36 yards while Hayes caught six passes for 65 yards.
Defensively the Broncos held its opponent to under 70 yards rushing and 300 yards passing for a second straight game.
Junior Russell Zolicoffer was a force up front, finishing with one sack and another tackle for loss. Conrad sacked Deer Creek quarterback Grady Adamson before picking him off later in the game. Sophomore Waleed Gaines Jr. showed his playmaking ability with a leaping interception grab early in the second quarter.
“We put the defense in some tough situations tonight and they really responded,” Blankenship said. “They allowed for us to make the comeback there at the end.”
Blankenship was pleased with his team’s overall effort and sees the positives his squad can take from the loss. He also knows the opponent was no pushover.
“We did some good things and I was proud of the kids for fighting the entire time,” he said. “We’re down 21-0 and could have decided the game was over. But instead we had a chance to win it at the end. And give credit to Deer Creek. There’s a reason they have a silver ball in their trophy case from last year.”
There were 17 penalties called in the game, including nine against Mustang for 69 yards. The Broncos racked up 25 first downs but went just 5-for-16 on third down.
Mustang looks to bounce back next Friday in its final non-district game of the season. The Broncos host the Har-Ber Wildcats out of Springdale, Ark., a game scheduled due to shakeups following reclassification at 6A-I and 6A-II.
The Class 7A Wildcats went 3-8 last season. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. at Bronco Stadium.