MERKEL — The Bangs Dragons will have to wait another week for their first win of the season as the Merkel Badgers snatched the District 3-3A Division I opener from them, 29-24, Friday night.
Despite fumbling the opening kickoff and fumbling later in the first quarter, the Dragons regrouped to look better offensively than they had in their four previous starts.
Then the injury plague that has haunted the Dragons all season struck again as senior Mason Reichenau, a two-way starter, went out early in the first quarter with a leg injury.
“Sometimes the only luck is bad luck,” Dragons head coach Jim Bird said. “That has definitely been our situation with injuries.”
Losing Reichenau’s leadership on the field hurt the Dragons’ confidence.
“He (Reichenau) is a difference maker,” Bird said. “We really felt his absence on defense. When you take out one of the heartbeats of your team, it really makes a difference.”
Quarterback Colton Brewer, who has seen limited action this season, went to work completing 10 straight passes. Part of that passing exhibition resulted in a 7-yard scoring run by Seth Ross. With 9:33 to play in the half, Ross put the Dragons up 6-0. Tanner James caught a pass from Brewer for the two-point conversion. The Dragons led 8-0 at the half.
The Badgers received the opening kick of the second half and scored on their first two possessions to stun the Dragons. With 8:11 to play in the third quarter, quarterback Austin Newberry hit Jonah White on an 8-yard pass for Merkel’s first score. The pass to Hayden Byers was good for the two-point conversion. The game was tied 8-8.
The Dragons could not recapture the momentum of the first half and punted the ball back to the Badgers. Merkel scored again with 5:53 to play in the third on a 49-yard pass to Will Jackson. The PAT failed. Merkel led 14-8.
Penalties, fumbles and interceptions by both teams kept the ball trading sides for the remainder of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter started out with another Merkel score. Newberry punched in from the 1 yard line with 10:35 left in the game. The PAT was good giving the Badgers a 21-8 lead. A Dragon fumble on their own 4-yard line with 6:55 to play set up another Merkel score. Matt Holmes ran two yards for the touchdown. Gage Lee caught a pass for the two-point conversion. Merkel appeared to have the game on ice 29-8.
The Dragons, however, put up a valiant effort late in the game. With 5:44 to play, Brewer’s 24-yard pass to the end zone was tipped by a Badger defender before Zach Fuqua juggled it and reeled in for the score. Brian Sterling caught a pass for the two-point conversion making the score 29-16.
With 2:21 to play, Brewer found Nick Sterling on a beautiful 92-yard catch and run play for a Dragon touchdown. Seth Ross ran in for the two-point conversion pulling the Dragons within five points of the Badgers at 29-24.
Merkel used the clock to its advantage before giving Bangs the ball back with only four seconds to play. The hook and lateral attempt wasn’t enough to pull Bangs ahead.
“We made some plays late in the game, but we couldn’t snatch the momentum back,” Bird said. “The bottom line is that we have good kids with good character. They play hard and they never give up. We still have five district games to play and our goal is to get into the playoffs”
Bangs (0-5, 0-1) will have its work cut out for them next week as it hosts the red-hot Clyde Bulldogs (4-2, 1-1), who upset Brady Friday night.
Merkel 29, Bangs 24
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Bangs 0 8 0 16 - 24
Merkel 0 0 14 15 - 29
First Downs 15 16
Total Offense 380 361
Rushes-Yards 28-63 32-136
Passing Yards 317 225
C-A-I 16-25-2 23-36-1
Fumbles Lost 3 2
Penalties 11-88 8-90
Punts 1-27.0 2-43.0