SAN ANGELO — “It’s all about making the right plays at the right time.”
That’s how Bangs head coach Chuck Lipsey summed up the Dragons’ 27-25 victory over the Denver City Mustangs Tuesday night in Division I-2A Region I area playoff action.
The win marked the second consecutive season the Dragons (9-3) pulled a second-round upset, defeating 21-point favorite Idalou by a 23-6 count in the area round a season ago.
Quick starts had carried the Dragons (9-3) in their last two victories over District 3-2A rival Brady and bi-district playoff foe Comanche. Bangs continued the trend Tuesday night by tallying the game’s first two touchdowns.
“Any time you play an undefeated team, jumping out on them is huge,” Lipsey said. “We made some plays in the first half and some defensive stands. Yeah we made some mistakes, but that’s part of it. We have to get those eliminated to move on, but I’m not dwelling on those tonight. We did a lot of good things and beat a good football team tonight, and that’s the most important thing.”
Despite racing out to a two-touchdown advantage, the game was decided on an onside kick with 57 seconds remaining. After Denver City (11-1) closed to within two points on a 74-yard touchdown pass from Mason Milligan to Cole McLeroy, the Mustangs tried to regain possession. The onside kick attempt, however, dribbled directly toward Mason Reichenau, who pounced on the ball. The Dragons were then able to run the final seconds off the clock.
“You won’t believe this but we were sitting in the office the other day thinking we needed to change our onside,” Lipsey said. “We decided to change it up and put our best hands guys out there and that turned out really big for us.”
The Dragons never trailed as quarterback J.T. Newton rushed for 101 yards and three touchdowns and added 203 yards passing, while the Bangs defense held Denver City to one first-half touchdown. Bangs finished with 381 yards of total offense, while surrendering 411.
Bangs scored on its first two possessions of the game, with the initial points set up by a Josh Truelove interception. Starting at the Dragon 47 following the pick of Milligan, Bangs needed just five plays to score as Newton sprinted into the end zone from 31 yards out for a 6-0 lead at the 8:52 mark of the first period.
“They felt like they were going to get after us, and they did, but right off the bat we got that interception and went down and scored,” Lipsey said. “That was huge.”
Denver City’s ensuing drive ended with a 39-yard punt that pinned the Dragons at their own 1. On the first snap, Newton connected with Truelove for a 52-yard gain into Mustang territory. Eight plays later, Jake Gravell scored on a 1-yard plunge to cap the 99-yard trek and Bangs owned a 14-0 lead with 10:57 left in the first half, following a two-point toss from Newton to Truelove.
“Any time you get down inside the 1 the other defense is gearing up to stop the run and get a safety,” Lipsey said. “We ran a jet pass and J.T. did a good job getting free, Truelove got open and J.T. put it down there and it worked out. All the scoring drives were important, but to get out 14-0 was huge for us.”
Denver City’s next possession saw the Mustangs advance 75 yards to the Bangs 2, but Milligan was unable to plow into the end zone on a fourth and goal attempt, and the Dragons kept the shutout intact with 6:12 left in the first half.
The Mustangs were able to score on their next possession – a one-play 22-yard drive that was set up by a 23-yard punt return. Milligan scored on a quarterback keeper as Denver City closed the gap to 14-6 with 4:23 left in the half.
The Dragons had a chance to carry a double-digit lead into halftime, but Carlos Mejia’s 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked as time expired in the second period.
However, Bangs was first to score in the second half as a 49-yard screen pass from Newton to Gravell set up Newton’s 9-yard touchdown run with 3:56 left in the third. The scoring drive covered 68 yards in just four plays and began when Truelove hauled in a line drive Denver City punt and returned it to the Bangs 32 for an 8-yard net effort.
Denver City quickly cut into Bangs’ 21-6 lead scoring on a 2- yard Milligan run with 2:34 left in the third period and with 8:08 left in the game on a 10-yard toss from Milligan to Daniel Garcia.
Clinging to a 21-18 lead and desperately needing to either score or milk the clock, the Dragons did both. A five-play, 61-yard, 2:37 drive culminated with a 47-yard sweep to the end zone by Newton, which boosted Bangs’ lead to 27-18 with 5:29 to go.
“That was a good play for us,” Lipsey said. “They started blitzing every linebacker they had and we wanted to get J.T. on the edge. We brought our backs around the edge and they did a good job blocking and he busted one off when they were stunting inside.”
Denver City was stopped on fourth down on its own 42 with 3:19 left, and it appeared the Dragons would run out the clock. But Newton fumbled after having his facemask yanked, but the referees waved off the flag and gave Denver City possession at the Mustang 24 with 1:11 left. The Mustangs scored in one play, but could not recover the onside kick.
Tuesday’s game was scheduled to be played Friday, Saturday and Monday, but icy road conditions in Denver City – which is near the New Mexico border just north of Seminole – prevented the game from taking place.
Bangs will face another undefeated team in Eastland (12-0) at 6 p.m. Monday at Gordon Wood Stadium in Brownwood in third-round playoff action. A condition of the waiver by the UIL that allowed Bangs and Denver City to play Tuesday was the winner could not play again until Monday, thus the odd scheduling for the Dragons continues.
DENVER CITY 25
Bangs 7 7 7 6 - 27
Denver City 0 6 6 13 - 25
B: J.T. Newton 31 run (kickblocked), 8:52, 1st
B: Jake Gravell 1 run (Josh Truelove pass from Newton), 10:57 2nd
D: Mason Milligan 22 run (kick failed), 4:23, 2nd
B: Newton 9 run (Carlos Mejia kick), 3:56, 3rd
D: Milligan 2 run (pass failed), 2:54, 3rd
D: Daniel Garcia 10 pass from Milligan (kick blocked), 8:08, 4th
B: Newton 47 run (pass failed), 5:29, 4th
D: Cole McLeroy 74 pass from Milligan (Saul Gutierrez kick), 0:57, 4th
First Downs 19 18
Total Offense 411 381
Rushes-Yards 41-245 41-178
Passing Yards 166 203
C-A-I 6-13-2 12-20-0
Fumbles Lost 0 1
Penalties 8-50 3-23
Punts 2-28.5 3-29.3
D: Milligan 27-180
B: Newton 22-101, Gravell 9-41, Seth Ross 10-36
D: Milligan 6-13-2-166
B: Newton 12-20-0-203
D: Cole McLeroy 2-127
B: Truelove 4-82, Gravell 3-65, Tanner Shaw 2-34, Cameron Castillo 2-11, Clay Funderburg 1-11