BANGS — The Bangs Dragons remained in the thick of the District 4-3A Division II playoff race and set up another pivotal showdown against the rival Coleman Bluecats next week as the program seeks its first playoff berth since 2014.
The team that kept Bangs from reaching the playoffs last season, the Merkel Badgers, were overwhelmed by the Dragons Friday night in a 47-6 thrashing at Memorial Stadium.
“To the average fan watching the game they might say Merkel didn't play that great tonight, but I think that's a credit to our guys,” said Bangs second-year head coach Kyle Maxfield. “Merkel is a good team and our guys just rose to the occasion and rose to challenge. They have a first-year coach and they're working through some things just like we had to in the past. But tonight is a credit to our guys and the way they executed and played.”
Bangs (4-3, 2-2), which exceeded last season's season win total with the victory, limited Merkel (1-6, 1-3) to 217 yards of total offense, forced three turnovers, and the Badgers didn't score until 7:37 remained in the contest. At halftime, where the Dragons led comfortably, 26-0, Bangs had yielded just 68 total yards and a pair of first downs and generated 249 yards — all on the ground.
On the offensive end, Bangs churned out 442 total yards — 308 rushing with five trips to the end zone on 34 carries, and 134 passing as quarterback Brayton Wedeman completed 4 of 6 attempts with half of those going for touchdowns.
Ethan Sanchez rushed for a team-high 183 yards and two scores — all in the first half — while Wedeman chipped in 81 yards and Guy Powell added 33 on the ground. Powell also caught a 73-yard touchdown pass, Trevor Bowers hauled in a 45-yard scoring reception and Wesley Mitchell finished with two grabs for 16 yards.
“I feel like we executed pretty well,” Maxfield said of the offense. “We still have to get better at throwing the ball down the field. When you're being successful running the ball it's kind of hard to make yourself do that, but we're going to need that down the stretch. Brayton made some good decisions tonight, he's getting better each and every week.”
Bangs opened the game with a three-and-out and 13-yard punt, as Merkel took over at the Dragon 32. Three snaps later the Badgers were punting from midfield, and the tone of the game had been set.
The Dragons' second series lasted just one play as Sanchez, who did not touch the ball on the first set of downs, broke free for an 83-yard gallop to the end zone and 7-0 Bangs lead with 7:49 left in the fist period.
Bangs' next drive lasted nine plays but bogged down at the Merkel 11 on the final play of the opening period and resulted in no points.
The Dragons' ensuing possession began at the Merkel 27 following a 14-yard punt return by Powell. Two plays later, Wedeman scored on a quarterback keeper to increase the advantage to 14-0 at the 8:46 mark of the second period.
Bangs' next drive began at the Merkel 25 after Riley Taylor scooped up a fumble following a short completion by the Badgers. After a couple of penalties, a 26-yard carry on a fourth-and-12 fake reverse by Powell moved the ball to the Merkel 1. Wedeman plunged his way into the end zone on the next snap and the Dragons' lead swelled to 20-0 with four minutes left before intermission.
“That's really big because our offense doesn't have a lot of length of the field drives, so anytime we can come up with a turnover and a short field that really helps up on the offensive side of the ball, more than the average team,” Maxfield said, in regard to turning three takeaways into 13 points.
The Dragons reached the end zone once more before halftime as a six-play drive, all carries by Sanchez, began with a 34-yard rumble through the Merkel defense and ended with an 8-yard scamper to the end zone with 41 seconds left in the second quarter, padding the cushion to 26-0.
Merkel completed only its second pass of the first half on the last snap of the second period, a 25-yarder, but like the initial completion the ball was fumbled away and Wyatt Lykins pounced on the recovery.
The Badgers opened the second half with a nine-play drive that featured a heavy helping of running back Isaac Sebastian, who rushed for a team-high 117 yards and caught five passes for 12 yards, but he lost three fumbles.
After stuffing the Merkel march on their 27, the Dragons needed just one play to again extend the lead as Wedeman fired a quick out to Powell who outraced the Badgers for a 73-yard touchdown and 33-0 advantage at the 6:36 mark of the third.
Merkel's very next play was another fumble, this one recovered by Bangs' Trey Ivey at the Badger 32. Three plays later, Powell was back in the end zone following an 11-yard carry, which put Merkel in a 40-0 hole with 5:49 left in the third.
The Dragons tacked on their final touchdown, and third of the third quarter, with 1:37 left in the period as, like the first scoring toss, Wedeman connected with Bowers on a short pass than turned into a 45-yard catch and run for a 47-0 lead at the 1:37 mark.
“When you're in the position our program is you sometimes don't know how to keep your foot on the gas when you come out in the second half, but we did that tonight and that's a step forward for us,” Maxfield said in regard to the 21-point third period.
Merkel's lone touchdown was the result of a 12-play, 71-yard trek that ended with a 4-yard touchdown by Caleb Kitchen with 7:37 left in the game.
Next week, the Dragons visit Coleman (3-4, 2-2) — coming off a 40-12 loss to Anson — in a game that will likely determine the fourth and final playoff seed from District 4-3A Division II, barring some unexpected results the rest of the way.
“It's going to be huge,” Maxfield said. “Coleman is a lot better and Coach (John) Elder and those guys do a great job. We have to go to their home turf, and that's always tough. It's only 20 miles down the road so it's a pretty big rivalry and we're going to have to be hitting on all cylinders.”
BANGS 47, MERKEL 6
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Merkel 0 0 0 6 - 6
Bangs 7 19 21 0 - 47
B: Ethan Sanchez 83 run (T.J. Butler kick), 7:49, 1st
B: Brayton Wedeman 18 run (Butler kick), 8:46, 2nd
B: Wedeman 1 run (kick failed), 4:00, 2nd
B: Sanchez 8 run (run failed), 0:41, 2nd
B: Guy Powell 73 pass from Wedeman (Butler kick), 6:36, 3rd
B: Powell 11 run (Butler kick), 5:49, 3rd
B: Trevor Bowers 45 pass from Wedeman (Butler kick), 1:37, 3rd
M: Caleb Kitchen 4 run (kick failed), 7:37, 4th
TEAM STATS M B
First Downs 11 15
Total Offense 217 442
Rushing Yards 32-188 34-308
Passing Yards 29 134
C-A-I 7-9-0 4-6-0
Fumbles Lost 3 0
Penalties 9-60 5-40
Punts 5-26.8 1-13.0
Rushing – M: Issac Sebastian 18-117, Joey Zink 10-39, D'alan Cotton 9-23, Elijah Salas 1-8, Caleb Kitchen 1-4, Riston Houston 3-(-3). B: Ethan Sanchez 16-183, Brayton Wedeman 12-81, Guy Powell 3-33, Eli Carbajal 1-9, Kolt Bradley 2-2.
Passing – M: Zink 6-8-0-4; J.J. Myers 1-1-0-25. B: Wedeman 4-6-0-134.
Receiving – M: Sebastian 5-12, Cotton 1-10, Myers 1-7. B: Wesley Mitchell 2-16, Powell 1-73, Trevor Bowers 1-45.