Mustangs win county championship
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
The Long Cane Middle School Cougars have been the top dog in the county in recent years, but the Gardner Newman Mustangs have turned the tables this season.
In a thrilling, back-and-forth showdown at Callaway Stadium on Wednesday night, Gardner Newman made a late defensive stand to outlast Long Cane 29-28 to not only beat its rival by capture the county championship.
Long Cane had the ball at the end with an opportunity to win it, but when a fourth-down play was unsuccessful with a little more than a minute remaining, Gardner Newman was able to run out the clock.
“This is fun to be a part of,” said Gardner Newman head coach Marcus Blandingburg, whose team beat Callaway Middle earlier this season in another county matchup. “(Long Cane coach Larry Murdock), he’s doing a great job over there, and we’re trying to mirror Long Cane. We worked all summer. The kids worked so hard, and I told them, whatever you do you’ll be successful, and that’s what happened. They’re great character kids.”
The Mustangs took the lead with 5:02 remaining on a 2-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Keys and a Roman Outland extra point.
The Cougars, as they’d done throughout the game, moved the ball and made it the Mustangs’ 35-yard line before a pass fell incomplete on fourth down.
“They hit us real quick, and we were hitting them back real quick, but our defense stepped up when they needed to,” Blandingburg said. “That was a big plus for our kids, and I’m so proud of them.”
It was a tough loss for the Cougars, but they’ll look to finish the season strong.
“You always have to learn from it, and keep going whether you win or lose,” Murdock said.
The Mustangs were successful in large part because of the performance of Keys, who rarely left the field.
Keys proved difficult to tackle as a running back and he had two touchdown runs as well as a critical two-point conversion run, and he was also a play-maker on defense.
“There were some real players out there,” Murdock said. “(Keys), he’s a player for their team, he’s something, and they played him on everything.”
Blandingburg said Keys is someone who “we’ve got to keep on the field. He kept wearing down, but he said look, I’ve got to do it for the team, and he stayed out there. He’s a leader.”
Gardner Newman quarterback BJ Wortham had a big game as well with touchdown passes to Rob Skinner and Jackson Bozeman, and Noah Outland made all three of his extra-point attempts.
For Long Cane, quarterback Ashton Williams had two touchdown runs, including one that was set up by a long kickoff return by Kendreikus Williams, he also completed a scoring pass to Jeremiah Hoard, and Malachi Fanning had a scoring run.
The Mustangs got the scoring started early, with Wortham finding Skinner for a 60-yard touchdown pass, and the Outland extra point made it a 7-0 game.
Back came the Cougars with a big play of their own, with Fannin ripping off an 80-yard touchdown run, and a successful two-point conversion gave them an 8-7 lead.
Late in the second quarter the Cougars added to their lead, with Ashton Williams finding Hoard for a 26-yard touchdown.
The two-point try was unsuccessful, and the Cougars had a 14-7 lead, which was the score at the half.
The Mustangs answered early in the third quarter, with Keys’ 16-yard touchdown run and the Outland extra point deadlocking the score at 14-14.
Back came the Cougars, with Kendreikus Williams returning the ensuing kickoff to the 1-yard line, setting up a touchdown run by Ashton Williams.
Ashton Williams also had the two-point conversion run, and Long Cane led 22-14 with 4:20 to play in the third quarter.
Long Cane reclaimed the lead on an Ashton Williams 41-yard touchdown run, and when the two-point attempt failed, Gardner Newman trailed 28-22.
The Mustangs, as they’d done all game long, responded with a score of their own.
Keys got the Mustangs into Cougars’ territory with a 37-yard run, and he finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Outland made the all-important extra point, and Gardner Newman led 29-28 with 5:02 to play.
Long Cane picked up a pair of first downs and was on the move when its last-gasp drive stalled, with Gardner Newman making some key defensive plays to end the suspense.
When it was over, the players and coaches celebrated, and Blandingburg looked on in appreciation at a group of players who have come a long way in a year.
“They did not win a game last year as a seventh-grade team,” Blandingburg said. “They busted their tail, and I’m so happy for them. It’s all about them.”
In the seventh-grade game, Long Cane won 6-0 in a game dominated by the defenses.
Long Cane broke a scoreless tie on a Trenton Hodo 15-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.
The Cougars took over near midfield after making a stop on fourth down, and quarterback Brayden Bound had runs of 20 yards and 10 yards to set up Hodo’s game-winning run.
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