The biggest concern the Fort Stockton High School football team had coming into its game against the Riverside Rangers of El Paso was not letting the Rangers’ option offense control possessions and the clock.
So, when the Rangers took the game’s opening kickoff and mounted a 21-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that chewed an amazing 11:32 off the clock – all but 38 seconds of the first quarter, there was cause for concern.
“That was a big eye-opener,” said head coach Mike Peters. “It was our worse-case scenario.”
That opening drive turned out to be a lengthy, but isolated, occurrence as the Panthers used some big offensive plays and got key turnovers on defense to roll to a 35-7 win.
“We started off a little slow,” said lineback Izaiah Lujan. “As we grouped back together as a team, we said ‘this isn’t Panther football. We’re bigger than that.’ We regrouped, adjusted a couple of things and just said ‘hit them harder, hit them harder.’ That’s exactly what we did.”
The win improves the Panthers to 3-0 on the season. It is the school’s best start since a 3-0 start in 2006 and a 6-0 start in 2011.
The team is now one win away from accomplishing their team goal running the pre-district table. So far, 4A-Div. 2 Fort Stockton has defeated two 3A-Div. 1 teams in Kermit and Alpine and a 5A-Div. 1 Riverside (0-3). A win over visiting 4A-Div. 1 Lakeview Friday will complete a 4-0 non-district schedule.
“This class is a very special class,” Lujan said. “This class is going to go big. This class is one of the best teams I’ve ever played with growing up from when I was a kid. We communicate like brothers. That’s was makes us a team.”
Lake View (1-2) has lost to two of Fort Stockton’s fellow 4A-Div. 2 District 1 teams in Lamesa (47-42) and Snyder (61-20) while recording a Week 2 win over Fabens (35-0).
When the Panthers’ finally got the ball on offense, they wasted little time in tying the game. Quarterback Nick Johnson connected with receiver Brain Gonzalez for a 60-yard catch-and-run 12 seconds into the second quarter.
Fort Stockton took the lead for good on a scoring drive set up by David Almanzar’s fumble recovery at the Rangers’ 27.
Tony Rodriguez capped the 7-play drive with a 5-yard run to make 14-7.
The defense stepped up again on the next series, intercepting a Rangers pass at the Fort Stockton 32.
The Panthers offense was forced to punt after three plays. The Fort Stockton defense returned the favor, forcing the Rangers to punt after three plays.
Fort Stockton wouldn’t need three plays this time, as Johnson hit Derek Hernandez on a 69-yard pass play that gave it a first-and-goal on the three. Johnson carried the ball in himself to run the score to 21-7.
The Rangers drove to the Panther 39 in the waning seconds of the second quarter, but Josh Hernandez sacked quarterback Isaac Marrufo to end the first half.
Fort Stockton took the second-half kickoff. The drive stalled after seven plays on the Rangers’ 36, forcing a punt.
The punt saw two flags on the Rangers – a roughing the kickers and, on the return side, a personal foul. Peters declined the 5-yard roughing call (which would not have given the Panthers a first down) but took the 15-yard personal foul to pin Riverside on its own 11.
The move paid off has the Panther defense again force the Rangers to punt after three plays.
Fort Stockton, starting from their own 44, again used a short pass to gain big yards and set up a touchdown. This time Johnson rolled out and hit Clayton Foster, who took the ball 54 yards to the Rangers’ eight. Cesar Trejo has a seven-yard run to the one. From there, Johnson scored the touchdown to put the Panthers up 28-7.
In the fourth quarter on a third-and-nine play, Johnson hit Jesse Franco breaking down the middle of the field for a 60-yard touchdown for the final 35-7 margin.
“When we had the opportunities, we put it in,” Peters said. “We had some big plays over the top.”
It was the first game where Fort Stockton did top 100 yards in rushing. The Panthers had 77 yards rushing and 274 yards through the air on nine-of-16 passing.
“They brought a lot pressure up the middle and did a better job on run game,” Peters said.
The Panthers employed a range of offensive formations including a four-receiver set with an empty backfield, a two-tight end set with a single back and a three-back wishbone.
After the Rangers’ opening scoring drive, they only made back into Fort Stockton territory once – a second-quarter drive to the 39 that was ended by Josh Hernandez’ sack to end the first half.
Unofficially, Riverside was held to 134 yards in total offense – with 74 coming on the opening drive.
“Our d-line is really good and stacked,” said Lujan. “And by us putting pressure up front, it gave the QB a little bit of a hesitation – ‘what do I do? Do I this or do I do that?’ Our d-line stepped it up and we were able to cause a couple of turnovers.”
Peters was impressed with his team bouncing back from the first quarter.
“It was a combination,” Peters said. “We made a few adjustments, we got a couple of turnovers. And we put some scores up that made them change what they were doing by trying to catch us. That is not where they are best.”