They were beat, but not beaten.
And they lost, but they weren’t defeated.
Mullen’s Mustangs fell again during this difficult 2021 season. They were on the short end of a 28-14 score to always good Columbine on a cold Friday night at Brother Bernard Kinneavy Field at De La Salle Stadium.
It was the Mustangs’ third consecutive loss, dropping them to 2-6 overall, 0-3 in the Class 5A Jefferson County League.
Once again, mistakes, particularly at crucial times, did in the Mustangs.
“Mistakes,” Mullen head coach Jeremy Bennett said, “… mistakes … we were right there. This is a good team. We got a lot closer tonight, but I’m tired of being close and the kids are tired of being close.
“Our kids played well. I’m really proud of the effort. We just have to get over the top.”
Mullen enjoyed a lot of moments. Kaleb Valdez-Lemos stepped in at quarterback, ran the offense, had success scrambling and rushing, and was reasonably effective through the air. Kyle Krebs again led a strong rushing game. The Mullen fronts fared well, rocking-and-rolling against a historically dominant program. And the Mullen defense regularly banged heads, even limiting the Rebels to just 60 yards rushing at the half.
The Mustangs also had the lead in the second quarter, 14-7 on a 1-yard plunge by Jaxon Heil 6:10 before halftime.
“That’s what we wanted,” Bennett said. “We wanted to get the lead, make them play from behind and put them in third-and-long.”
However, it’s also when the bottom started to fall out for Mullen. Columbine (6-2, 2-1) responded by returning the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown to tie it.
And when the Mustangs, who had two long, time-consuming drives for scores – generally regarded for years as the formula to deal with rush-oriented Columbine – and appeared to be driving for a third, Krebs, on another solid inside gain, fumbled at the 8-yard line and the Rebels recovered in the end zone.
“I don’t know how it came out,” a distraught Krebs said.
It continued into the second half. Mullen, on its second possession, opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 33 and was stuffed by the Columbine defense. Aided by an unsportsmanlike penalty, the Rebels scored to take the lead for good in six plays.
“I screwed that one up,” Bennett said, noting the confusion before the snap.
There were others. The Mullen offense went cold. There was a dropped pass on third down that could have been a large gain. A false start penalty on third down. Another personal foul. And a fumble recovery that was given right back to the Rebels three plays later that led to a clinching touchdown.
Valdez-Lemos, a junior who started a game as a freshman, was picked off twice, but both were inconsequential.
“I just walked in like I’ve done this before,” he said of stepping in for the injured Blake Palladino. “I have to keep myself accountable. We played well, but we also made a lot of mistakes. We have to get back to work.”
Bennett, who noted the play of his lines, the defense in general, Valdez-Lemos, Krebs, Heil, Juan Bertaud and Dylan Ellerby, said “these guys have really battled hard. Again, we just have to eliminate these mistakes.”
COLUMBINE 28, MULLEN 14
Columbine 7 7 7 7 -- 28
Mullen 7 7 0 0 -- 14
Columbine -- James Cillessen 4 run (Wesley Jones kick), 8:06.
Mullen – Kyle Krebs 33 run (Bryce Sohayda kick), 2:56.
Mullen -- Jaxon Heil 1 run (Bryce Sohayda kick), 6:10.
Columbine -- Josh Snyder 85 kickoff return (Wesley Jones kick), 5:56.
Columbine – Seth Cromwell 1 run (Wesley Jones kick), 2:27.
Columbine -- Tyree Hayes-Trusty 29 run (Wesley Jones kick), 6:03.