Man, it was emotional … elimination football and all that comes with it. The highs and lows. The big plays and missed chances. The lead changes. The penalties. The turnovers. The momentum shifts. The desperation. And In Mullen’s case, the loss that ends a season.
The Mustangs nearly rallied late, but fell short on Friday night. They lost 24-16 to Mountain Vista in the preliminaries of the Class 5A playoffs, a batted-down pass near an end zone that capped it at Brother Bernard Kinneavy Field at De La Salle Stadium.
No doubt, the Mustangs gave it a go in the final minutes, but the bottom line remained the same – for a second consecutive year, they lost a home playoff game to an opponent with a losing record and turned in a 4-7 record.
“Two years in a row is frustrating,” Mullen head coach Stanley Richardson said. “To have them come into your home field and lose is deflating.”
Senior lineman Aidan Keanaaina was even more blunt.
“It does suck,” he said.
Trailing 24-16, Mountain Vista, which also is 4-7 and will take on defending 5A champion Valor Christian in the second round, appeared to be successfully running out the clock. The Golden Eagles took over at their 20-yard line with 4:58 to play after Mullen had given it over on downs and passed on what would have been about a 36-yard field-goal attempt.
In churning out three first downs, Mountain Vista got to the Mullen 25 before the Mustangs forced a fumble with 1:24 remaining.
Amid a wave of incompletions that helped stop the clock, the Mustangs received a tremendous catch off a deflection by Clay Barden just in bounds for a 19-yard gain on fourth down; one of Ben Marcoux’s seven receptions, this one a 21-yarder; and a holding penalty on the Golden Eagles on fourth down.
Ultimately, the Mustangs survived an intentional-grounding penalty on second down, were able to spike it on third down to save a second to play and misfired into the end zone.
“We had a chance and just didn’t get it done,” said Marcoux, who had 194 yards receiving.
They didn’t and they knew chances abounded.
Mullen, which generated a season-high three turnovers, forced a three-and-out to start the game and a bad snap by the Golden Eagles in punt formation led to taking over at the Mountain Vista 7. Two plays later, C.J. Smith ran it in from the 3, but the conversion was botched in swinging-gate formation. Richardson said “it was a senior decision” to go for two points.
“We got off to a decent start getting the ball the way we did and we get a touchdown,” he said. “From there we went backwards.”
Three series later, the Mustangs, who also were hurt on punt coverage, made matters worse with a personal-foul penalty on a screen pass that led to a 47-yard passing score and 7-6 deficit.
Mullen didn’t lead again.
The Golden Eagles upped their lead to 14-6 early in the second quarter on an interception return for a touchdown and despite the Mustangs’ best drive of the game lasting 8 minutes and resulting in a field goal, Richardson said he wasn’t surprised.
“We had to try to play catch-up and (the Golden Eagles) played everybody tough in the first half,” he said. “And we came out flat in the second half.”
Mountain Vista put together back-to-back scoring drives in the third resulting in a field goal and a short pass for a TD set up by a long punt return. The Golden Eagles led 24-9 and looked firmly in command.
However, Kyle Remington found Ben Marcoux one-on-one in the middle of the field for an 81-yard scoring connection to end the third.
It stayed that way, but not for lack of effort.
“The guys played hard to the end and I was proud of them,” Richardson said.
Mullen top running back Damien Cearns didn’t dress because of an ankle injury. Next-player-up C.J. Smith suffered a concussion in the first half. And fullback Ryan Hearty nearly made a catch in the final seconds was clearly slowed with injury.
Ben Martinez had two interceptions, one a play before Marcoux’s long catch-and-run. And Keanaaina went in at right tackle on the final drive to ensure protection for Remington.
But Mountain Vista won a lot of the battles up front. It piled up 223 yards rushing and Keanaaina said Golden Eagles coach Garrett Looney, also known for quarterbacking Columbine to the 1999 state title just months after the Massacre, told him afterward that they game-planned for him and purposely ran away from him.
“It was a good thing to feel, but it still sucked to watch,” Keanaaina said.
The Golden Eagles also pressured Remington regularly and permitted a net of 41 yards rushing.
“We had a chance at the end, we fought, we were making plays, but we just didn’t make the right play at the last shot,” he said. “We just couldn’t get the play.”
The off-season for the program that experienced a third-consecutive losing season and fifth in seven season, he said, “will be huge.”
Still, said Keanaaina, who next will suit up for Notre Dame: “I think the seniors left a good legacy and tradition behind.”
MOUNTAIN VISTA 24, MULLEN 16
Mountain Vista 7 7 10 0 -- 24
Mullen 6 3 7 0 -- 16
Mullen – C.J. Smith 3 run (run failed), 9:50.
Mountain Vista – Adam Holton 47 pass from Jacob Barrett (Ethan Love kick), 4:50.
Mountain Vista – Grant Shells 27 interception return (Love kick), 11:42.
Mullen – FG Aidan Lehman 29, 4”05.
Mountain Vista – FG Love 39, 5:35.
Mountain Vista – Carter Ortega 3 pass from Barrett (Love kick), 2:43.
Mullen – Ben Marcoux 81 pass from Kyle Remington (Lehman kick), 0:00.