ABERDEEN — In what had to be a nightmare scenario, Mantachie’s Mustangs — the smallest Class 3A team in the state — had the unenviable task of making its 3A debut against the homestanding Aberdeen Bulldogs.
Even under the best of circumstances, moving up in classification is never an easy task, but opening division play against the two-time defending North State 3A champion Bulldogs at Homecoming is probably not what Mantachie coach Andrew Aldridge had in mind when he took the job two years ago.
To make matters worse, Aberdeen – the state’s No. 1-ranked 3A team in all the preseason polls – moved into division play with an uncharacteristic 2-4 record after playing arguably its toughest non-division schedule in history, the last three games of which the Dogs lost to Noxubee County, West Bolivar and Louisville by a combined 24 points.
Eager to begin its trek back to Jackson, Aberdeen needed a breather from its brutal non-division schedule and the Bulldogs found Mantachie just what the doctor ordered as the Dogs rolled to a 40-0 shutout win.
“It’s good to be back on track,” said Aberdeen coach Chris Duncan, who felt his Bulldogs needed to play a tough non-division slate in preparation for defending their North State championship. “Offensively, we’re starting to come around on that side of the ball and although we sputtered a few times, we showed some improvement.”
Aberdeen wasted precious little time in taking control of the game, as the Dogs’ first play from scrimmage resulted in a 41-yard pass completion from freshman quarterback Josh Williams to senior Michael Hodges which carried to the Mustangs’ 14-yard line.
A 9-yard run by Jeremy Brandon moved the ball to the 5-yard line and then Williams called his own number to score on a keeper with 7:43 left in the first quarter. Brandon’s PAT kick was off the mark.
On its ensuing possession, Mantachie quarterback Dustin Carrell hooked up with fellow sophomore Micah Sparks on a 15-yard pass completion and then found Clay Johnson for nine more yards to give the Mustangs a first at the Aberdeen 49. But Carrell’s next offering was picked off by Tamarkus Payne near the Aberdeen 40 and was returned to the ‘Stangs 34.
Seven plays later, six of which were runs by Coreno Blanchard, Justin Lucas and Williams, Aberdeen extended its lead to 12-0 when Lucas bulled his way past a couple of tacklers en route to a 7-yard scoring jaunt with 2:28 left in the first quarter. Williams’ 2-pt. pass fell incomplete, leaving Mantachie on the short end of a 12-0 count.
Aberdeen made it three-for-three on its third possession when the Dogs drove 80 yards on just five rushing plays, two on runs of 21 and 33 yards by sophomore Sammy Burroughs and one by Jeremy Brandon which covered 24 yards. Brandon Walker capped the march with a 3-yard burst and then Williams hit Channing Ward for the 2-point conversion to make it a 20-0 count with 10:22 left in the second period.
Thanks to a botched onsides kick by Aberdeen, Mantachie drove to the Bulldog 28 only to lose 18 yards on the next two plays – 14 of which came on a sack by Jalen Bell – to force the third Mustang punt of the game.
Fumbles and incomplete passes halted Aberdeen’s scoring attempts on its next two possessions, but the Dogs scored twice in the final 32 seconds of the second quarter – only one of which counted.
Burroughs electrified the Homecoming crowd with a 45-yard punt return just before halftime, but a holding call nullified the score so Williams sandwiched three pass completions around a pair of spikes to stop the clock – the last pass from 17 yards out to Brandon at the buzzer.
Williams then made it a 28-0 halftime score with a two-point conversion pass to Ward.
The Dogs upped the count to 34-0 on their second possession of the third quarter as Williams completed three straight passes to Brandon good for 55 yards to set up an 18-yard scamper by sophomore Josh Ewing to cap the 8-play, 82-yard march.
A little more than four minutes later, a 19-yard burst by Blanchard and a pass completion to Elliot Johnson preceded the Dogs’ final touchdown. Williams claimed the scoring honors once again on a 2-yard keeper to account for Aberdeen’s sixth and final score of the game.
Pleased with the shutout, Duncan wasn’t happy with the performance of his defensive backfield, however.
“Our defensive backs are not playing well and we’re going to find someone who can get the job done next week in practice,” said Duncan. “We need a lot of improvement there and if we can’t cover people, we’re going to be in trouble.”
On the flip side, Aldridge was happy with his passing game, but admitted his backs ran up against a stone wall trying to move the ball on the ground.
“We did a good job throwing and catching the ball, but we just couldn’t do anything on the ground,” he said.
Next up for Aberdeen (3-4) is a trip to Nettleton, a game which could even the Bulldogs’ overall record at 4-4..
“If we’re going to win, we’re going to have to play better pass defense,” said Duncan. “If we don’t, were going to have to score 40 or more to keep us in the game.”
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