SWEETWATER — Out to prove they're no fluke, the Steers (6-2) traveled to Mustang Bowl Friday to take on Sweetwater (3-5) — as well as earn their second consecutive district victory.
They did just that. Big Spring defeated the Mustangs 65-42, asserting its dominance in a district it couldn't find a way to win in for the past two seasons. But good things come to those who wait. And BSHS Head Coach Phillip Ritchey is glad the wait is over. Not only are the Steers a shoe-in for the playoffs, they could win or split the 4-3A title.
“We're sitting right where we want to sit,” Ritchey said. “We control our own destiny. It feels real good. And it's great for the kids. It's hard to put in all that hard work and not make it to the playoffs. But hopefully, we will be celebrating a district championship here in a couple of weeks, whether it belongs to us or we share it.”
The Steers' offensive machine began cranking up just moments into the first quarter when freshman running back Preston Alexander scored on a 30-yard run. The PAT kick by Devin Roberson was good and Big Spring drew first blood with a 7-0 lead.
Sweetwater has the ability to put points on the board, however, and it promptly answered back with a 16-yard rushing TD of its own.
With 25 seconds left in the first frame, BSHS quarterback Ryan Tannehill connected with a 27-yard pass to Ryan Lopez to go up 14-7.
The Mustangs tried an unexpected onside kick and recovered the ball, but penalties nullified the play and Big Spring ended up starting its drive from its own 25-yard line.
Again, Sweetwater wasn't fazed, adding another touchdown to knot the game at 14.
After 1:47 of passing and rushing effectively, Alexander capped a short drive with a 25-yard TD run.
That's when the Steer defense was called upon for successful red zone stop. It was up to the challenge and with under two minutes left in the half, Alexander scored from inches away on a handoff to make it 28-14.
That's when BSHS began to pull away.
A Mustang fumble was recovered by Big Spring, culminating in a 33-yard field goal by Roberson to increase the lead to 31-14.
Alexander's only blunder of the game came when he was stripped of the ball on the next Steer possession. Sweetwater made BSHS pay as it was returned 54 yards for a touchdown with 8:50 remaining in the third stanza.
Tannehill then found Tate Kennedy, who made a 39-yard reception for a score, but SHS answered back with a TD to make it a 38-28 game. After moving the chains on a gain by Hunter Hill, a catch by Roberson and a roughing penalty by the Mustangs, Tannehill hit Lopez, this time in the far right corner of the end zone for another score.
Garrett Wigington came up with an interception to cut the next Sweetwater drive short and Hunter Hill put the game out of reach with a two-yard touchdown to make 52-28.
Hill added another touchdown on an 11 second drive the next time the Steers got the ball and the last Big Spring score came on 45-yard keeper by Tannehill.
Altogether, the Steers compiled 554 yards to the Mustangs 465 and were involved in the second game this season where the point total eclipsed 100.
When asked if the defense was too porous for a playoff run, Ritchey dismissed the notion.
“We don't want to give up 40 points,” he explained. “But as long as we get 60, it doesn't matter. When you have a 28 or 30 point lead, you loosen up a bit. You just try not to give up the big plays. We did give up a few big plays, but it's hard to maintain that intensity on the defense when you're scoring the way we have been. Friday, it came down to whoever got the big stop. Our defense was the key to the game in the first half.”
Any Big Spring fan could have told you this season had a lot of potential. A veteran defense, an offense which has scored at least 35 points in every outing except one, well-rounded play in all three phases of the game, but Ritchey again credited the offensive line for the most successful season in recent memory.
“To me, you can't put up those kind of numbers without a good offensive line,” he added. “We have good players at the skill positions, but you can't run and pass consistently without a solid offensive line. We just have a lot of talent there and it opens up a lot of options for us on offense.”
Next week, the Steers should again come away the victors as they travel to Greenwood to meet the beleaguered Rangers (2-6). The final regular season game will be at home against Monahans (6-2), which edged Snyder 35-34 Friday.