When coaches tell you games come down to turnovers, it’s often chalked up to simple coach-speak. Mildred’s moving on in the playoffs in large part to the one takeaway it had, and the one it didn’t let slip away.
The No. 8 Eagles remained perfect and remained on the path to a regional title with an epic 21-13 win over physical Hughes Springs Friday night at Van Memorial Stadium.
They advance to play Gunter (10-2) in the Region II-2A DII finals at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Garland’s Homer B. Johnson Stadium.
In a game with several key plays, perhaps none was bigger than Daniel Donoho’s strip of Mustangs’ quarterback Duvante Hatten in the third quarter, inside the Mildred 10. Hughes Springs (6-6) was driving for a tying score when the 5-9 1/2, 150-pound all-state safety stripped the 6-1, 210-pound Hatten.
“He was a beast,” Mildred defensive tackle Noah Pennell said of Hatten. “He was a tree we had to chop down. He was a big guy and he ran hard.”
Mildred (12-0) led at the half, 14-7, after Nic Shimonek and Daniel Folsom teamed up for their 20th touchdown pass of the season, covering 30 yards with 1:08 left in the second quarter. But it almost never happened.
On the play before, running back Draylon Sterling fumbled after a six-yard pickup. Mildred center Jasper Marshall was Johnny-on-the-spot, taking the ball on a bounce and advancing it another six yards, keeping the ball in his team’s possession, and Shimonek’s hands.
Mildred stretched its lead to 21-7 midway through the fourth, then fended off a fierce Mustangs rally in the final minute. Hatten had four pass attempts from the Mildred 11 in the last 17 seconds fall incomplete.
“We hadn’t been in a tight one in a long time,” Mildred head coach Patrick Harvell said. “But we were expecting a tough game. … What a great high school game that was.”
It was a quick one. Mildred, the passing team, ran for 225 yards and passed for only 147. Hughes Springs likes to run, and did so primarily in small chunks. The Mustangs had 336 yards on the ground, but they came on 61 carries. They had seven carries of more than 10 yards, but three came from wing backs, and two from Hatten (18-98) from the shotgun, something the Mustangs rarely line up in.
Sophomore Mercer McCoo led Hughes Springs with 137 yards on 32 carries, and his 1-yard plunge with four minutes to go in the game made it 21-13 after Donoho blocked the extra point kick.
Hughes Springs played keep away in the second half, running 48 plays to Mildred’s 22. But it only led to six points.
After Donoho’s takeaway, Hughes Springs next drive stalled at Mildred’s 27 when Jonathan Harrison tripped up Dustin Garamillo for a yard on fourth-and-6. That led to a 10-play Mildred scoring drive that ended when Logan Shelton scored on a 4-yard run to make it a two-touchdown game.
The drive was kept alive when Shimonek hit Folsom for 23 yards on third-and-11, found Mason Rose down the left sideline between two defenders for 27 yards on third-and-3, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on second and goal against Hughes Springs after Shelton had been dropped for a four-yard loss.
It was a critical score. Hughes Springs answered with a 16-play, 87-yard drive that featured a Mildred unsportsmanlike penalty on Thomas Finigmow after defensive end Payton Wilson had pressured Hatten into an incompletion on third-and-10 deep in Mustangs territory.
It was one of three such penalties for the Eagles.
“We had a lot of dumb penalties,” Harvell said. “We have to understand in a game like this, emotions are going to get heated.”
Mildred came out and scored on the opening possession of the night, setting a running trend. Draylon Sterling scored from six yards out to make it 7-0 after Devin O’Sullivan’s extra point, just a little over two minutes in. The eight-play drive featured seven runs.
Sterling (101 yards) and Shelton (93) each ran 16 times in the game. Shimonek threw only 12 times, completing 10 for 147 yards.
The offense simply took what Hughes Springs gave it, Harvell said, and the result was more than satisfactory.
It was a physical game, Sterling said, and a team effort.
“It was the most physical game we’ve had,” Sterling said, adding, “I always hoped we’d be in the playoffs, but I never imagined we’d have a chance to maybe play for a state championship.”
Mildred 21, Hughes Springs 13
Hughes Springs 0 7 0 6 — 13
Mildred 7 7 0 7 — 21
M — Draylon Sterling 6 run (Devin O’Sullivan kick), 9:52
HS — Davuntae Hatten 1 run (Luis Dorates kick), 9:14
M — Daniel Folsom 30 pass from Nic Shimonek (O’Sullivan kick), 1:08
M — Logan Shelton 4 run (O’Sullivan kick), 7:17
HS — Mercer McCoo 1 run (kick fail), 4:00
First downs 21 19
Rush-yards 61-332 43-225
Passing yards 46 147
C-A-I 3-15-0 10-12-0
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-0
Punts-avg. 3-32 4-25
Penalties-yards 8-51 6-68
Rushing— HS: Mercer McCoo 32-137, Duvante Hatten 18-98, Michael Martinez 4-18, Cody Murphy 6-78, Camden Lambert 1-1. M: Logan Shelton 16-93, Draylon Sterling 16-101, Nic Shimonek 9-22, Daniel Donoho 1-3, Jasper Marshall 1-6.
Passing— HS: Hatten 3-15-0-46. M: Shimonek 10-12-0-147.
Receiving— HS: Martinez 1-5, Zach Bassham 2-40. M: Donoho 1-3, Daniel Folsom 3-67, Jase Butler 1-12, Mason Rose 4-57, Shelton 1-7.