By Scott Nickerson, EAN Sportswriter
One play into the 2nd quarter of Stanhope Elmore High School’s Class 6A Region 3 contest against the Calera Eagles Friday night, the Mustangs found themselves down 21-0 in a game that they were expected to win easily.
Up to that point, things could not have gone much worse for the Mustangs. The Eagles returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. After Stanhope Elmore’s offense went three and out on their first possession, Calera struck again, this time with quarterback Tyler Nelson throwing a 64-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jaydien Rutledge to put the Eagles up by two touchdowns less than three minutes into the game.
The Stanhope Elmore offense was unable to do anything in the 1st quarter and fumbled deep in their own territory on the final play of the period. The Eagles took advantage, with Nelson throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Just like that, the Mustangs trailed 21-0.
Down three touchdowns, Stanhope Elmore Coach Brian Bradford and staff did not panic and resort to a passing only attack. Quite the opposite actually, as the Mustangs went to a strong rushing attack led by sophomore running back Antonio Trone. Moving receiver Teddy Harris to quarterback for the possession, he and Trone carried the ball several times as the Mustangs quickly moved the ball down the field. Trone finished off the drive with a 10-yard touchdown to get the Mustangs on the board.
On the next drive, defensive end William Whitlow came up with a big stop on 3rd down to force a punt. The Eagles attempted a fake, but were not able to pick up a first down, giving the Mustangs field possession at the Calera 32-yard line. Stanhope Elmore quarterback Trey Killingsworth found receiver/running back/punter Teddy Harris for a pass, but the play resulted in an injury to Harris that kept him out of the remainder of the game. The Mustangs relied on their offensive line and Trone some more, and he scored from 11 yards out. The extra point was blocked, but the Mustangs had cut the lead to 21-13.
For the second time in the first half, Calera had a great kickoff return, this time returning the ball all the way to the Mustangs’ 10-yard line. A few plays later, Nelson had another 11-yard touchdown pass, putting the Eagles up 27-13 with 1:31 left until halftime.
The Eagles were able to get the ball back before halftime, and they decided to be aggressive and put more points on the board. However, a swarming Stanhope Elmore defense converged on the Eagles quarterback on the last play before the half, and he stayed on the turf as his teammates ran to the locker room. After throwing 3 touchdowns in the 1st half, Wilson did not return in the 2nd half. It was a big difference.
Not only did the Mustangs continue to lean on a run-heavy offense featured by Trone, but the Mustangs defensive line harassed the Eagles’ ball carriers and running backs on nearly every play. The Mustangs’ offense also benefited from good field position, as Stanhope Elmore started three consecutive drives in Calera territory. After both teams were unable to do anything with their opening possessions, Calera mishandled a punt snap, and the Mustangs started deep in Eagles’ territory. Trone scored a short time later from 1-yard out and the lead was cut to 27-21.
On the Mustangs’ next offensive possession, they faced a 4th down near the Calera 40-yard line. The Mustangs faked a punt, getting the ball to Whitlow, who rumbled down the field, running over would be tacklers for a 30-yard gain all the way to the 10-yard line. Shortly after, Trone scored his 4th touchdown of the night from 5-yards out. The extra point missed, but the Mustangs had tied the score at 27 with 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter.
The Mustang defense again prevented Calera from picking up any yards, and the Eagles once again botched a snap on a punt attempt on 4th down, setting the Mustangs up 20 yards from the end zone. This time, Killingsworth dropped back and found Chase Eddings for a 20-yard touchdown pass on 4th and 10. Trone converted the two-point conversion to put the Mustangs ahead 35-27.
Neither team’s offense was able to do anything in the final quarter, but without Wilson at quarterback, Calera was not able to mount any type of a scoring threat. Junior defensive end Caleb Foster snuffed out the best chance the Eagles had to tie the game with a big stop with less than six minutes remaining in the game, preserving the 35-27 victory for the Mustangs.
For the night, Trone carried the ball 29 times for 188 yards and 4 touchdowns. Killingsworth went 7-12 passing for 60 yards and 1 touchdown.
The Mustangs improve to 4-3 on the season, and 3-1 in Class 6A Region 3. They will have a bye next week. On October 16, the Mustangs will travel to Helena in another Class 6A Region 3 match. Helena is scheduled to play at Calera next week before hosting Stanhope Elmore. See More Photos Below.