By Brock Sisney (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
MT. VERNON — The Mt. Vernon Mountaineers blanked the Reeds Spring Wolves in the second half en route to a 28-10 victory in Big 8 East play Friday night at Mountaineer Stadium.
Offensively, Mt. Vernon took a 21-10 lead early in the fourth quarter after engineering a drive that accumulated 74 yards in 16 plays and devoured 8 minutes, 44 seconds off the clock. This drive contributed heavily to Reeds Spring barely having possession after halftime.
Defensively, Mt. Vernon forced Reeds Spring to punt on four of their five second half possessions and an interception off a tipped ball on the other Wolves possession set up the Mountaineers’ final scoring drive.
“Second half was huge for us,” Mt. Vernon head coach Tom Cox said. “The third quarter, we tried to emphasize that, especially when you get the ball coming out. They came into halftime with 10 points and they ended the game with 10 points, and that’s our main goal. We felt like if we could do that, we’re not going to lose the ballgame. Offense was able to make some plays. We still have a few bad plays, but that’s a part of it and we try to minimize that.”
Mt. Vernon scored 21 points off three Reeds Spring turnovers — two interceptions and one fumble recovery. All three turnovers gave Mt. Vernon possession in Reeds Spring territory and two of them put the Mountaineers in the red zone.
“Normally, they don’t turn it over like that,” Cox said. “I was super proud of our defense again. They did a good job of creating … we like to think of them as takeaways. We don’t talk about turnovers at Mt. Vernon. We talk about takeaways. We were able to put enough pressure on them they made some mistakes. Their touchdown came as a result of two trick plays, which were executed very well, but I felt like overall our defense did a very good job of stopping what they wanted to do. (Reeds Spring senior Colton) Cramblett is one of the best backs in Southwest Missouri and we were very happy about how we contained him tonight, because he’s got great speed. They’ve got a bunch of guys that can run. It’s good to beat those guys, because any time we can beat them, we know we’ve beaten a good football team.”
Mt. Vernon senior Rafe Darter ended Reeds Spring’s opening drive when he picked off senior quarterback Matt Allison’s pass at the Wolves 18. Two plays later, senior quarterback Mason Ballay found his favorite target Darter — immortalized on the front of the game program Friday night with a photo of his game-winning catch in heavy traffic in the season opener against Cassville — for a 18-yard TD and a 7-0 lead.
The Wolves answered with a 90-yard scoring drive — highlighted by a pair of halfback passes executed by Cramblett, a 43-yard connection with fellow senior Cailub Solis and then a 6-yard TD pass to quarterback Allison — for a tie score, but their next possession ended on a Josh Totten fumble recovery. Two plays and five yards later, Ballay found the end zone on a 2-yard run.
Mt. Vernon’s two scoring drives in the first half totaled four plays, 23 yards, and 1:29.
Reeds Spring earned a 14-10 halftime score with a Cramblett 29-yard field goal on the half’s final play.
The Mountaineers, though, rested final control of the momentum and the game with their lengthy scoring drive capped off by a Ballay 1-yard TD run on fourth down. The senior quarterback utilized both his arm and his legs on this drive, with three passes and two runs moving the chains and consuming precious time. Second-and-long situations especially favored Ballay and the Mountaineers on the drive — Ballay hit Darter for a 17-yard gain on a second-and-15 and Ballay later broke a 22-yard run on a second-and-14.
“Super proud of them,” Cox said. “That’s exactly what we needed to do. Watching the Chiefs last night and how they had a long drive that just consumed it. They were running the ball, throwing the ball, short stuff here and there, just consuming the quarter. That’s one of the things we were trying to do.”
The Mountaineers survived a pair of their own possible turnovers — both fumbles — on their final scoring drive and they gave Reeds Spring a steady dose of 210-pound senior running back Justin Moore, not exactly what a worn out Wolves defense wanted after being on the field so much after halftime. Moore’s 7-yard TD run with 1:36 remaining in regulation put an exclamation point on a Senior Recognition Night victory over a conference rival.
Mt. Vernon will take a 3-0 record into a Big 8 East battle next week against Aurora. The Houn Dawgs suffered their first loss of the season — 28-6 against Rogersville — but the Mountaineers know better than to overlook a much-improved Aurora team playing at home. The Houn Dawgs already doubled their win total from all last season with their wins against McDonald County (50-36) and Monett (22-7) to open the season.
“It’s huge,” Cox said. “It’s one of the oldest rivalries in Missouri, so we take that one very seriously. We have to go over there and play on grass. We will practice on grass this week to get ready for that. I think our guys know what’s at stake. Another Big 8 East opponent, it’s Aurora, and we don’t have to do much to get them up for that.”
Reeds Spring, plagued by turnovers in consecutive defeats against Lamar and Mt. Vernon after winning the opener 41-7 against East Newton, will try and return to winning form in Week 4 against 0-3 Springfield Catholic. The Wolves also return home after playing on the road the past two weeks.