Mustangs travel to Nederland for high-scoring Week 1 matchup

Published 11:52 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

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NEDERLAND — The West Orange-Stark Mustangs downed the Nederland Bulldogs, 40-34, in an action-packed season opener at Bulldog Stadium on Friday evening in Nederland.

Mustangs quarterback Marcus Turner Jr. accounted for more than 300 yards of offense and five total touchdowns on the night. He led his team to a comeback victory sparked by three unanswered scores in the fourth quarter.

“It’s hard to win in Mid County,” said WO-S head coach Hiawatha Hickman. “It’s hard to beat these guys. But it’s always been a motto of West Orange to stay in the fight.”

The Bulldogs struck just 36 seconds into the first quarter, setting the tone for the high-scoring affair. Quarterback Ayden Sunday completed two passes to KJ Tezeno for 53 and 27 yards, the second of which went for a touchdown.

Midway through the first quarter, Sunday lost a fumble, recovered by West Orange-Stark.

Turner Jr. found senior receiver Nicholas Crosson wide open on the left sideline for a touchdown following a busted coverage. Turner ran in the two-point conversion to put the Mustangs ahead, 8-6.

Mustangs quarterback Marcus Turner Jr. gets ready for the snap while Jalen Gilmore, No. 8, sets ready for the play. (Keagan Smith/The Leader)

Standout Nederland running back Hubert Thomas broke loose on the first play of the next drive, taking it 76 yards to the house. Sunday then completed a pass to Tezeno for the two-point conversion. The Bulldogs reclaimed a 14-8 lead.

Nederland retained possession in improbable fashion as they recovered their own pooched kickoff at the Mustangs’ 44. A seven-play drive was capped off by Sunday’s four-yard touchdown rush. However, the PAT was blocked and returned nearly 80 yards by Taydren Perrault, giving the Mustangs two points.

Trailing 20-10 to begin the second quarter, Turner led WO-S on an 80-yard scoring drive. He scampered into the end zone with a five-yard touchdown.

Nederland would again surge back ahead midway through the quarter, with Sunday running for a 12-yard score — the Bulldogs appeared firmly in control with a 27-16 lead at the half.

A 14-yard touchdown rush by halfback Khelvy Jefferson brought the Mustangs closer near the end of the third quarter.

The tug-of-war on the scoreboard continued, though, as Tezeno took a jet sweep 27 yards to the end zone and gave the Bulldogs a 34-22 advantage to begin the fourth quarter.

While the Bulldogs held a typically explosive Mustangs offense mostly in check throughout the first three quarters, late adjustments by Hickman and his staff changed the outcome.

“Nederland did some things that we didn’t expect,” Hickman said. “They came out and gave us some power reads for the quarterback that we hadn’t really worked on. We had to make some adjustments, but once we did we fared a little better.”

West Orange-Stark began to rally in the final frame. A 38-yard rush by Turner Jr. was followed by a 28-yard score — the quarterback broke several tackles and emerged from a swarm of bodies before finding his way across the goal line.

The Mustangs finally drew even on the scoreboard with roughly five minutes remaining. Turner Jr. threw a 31-yard jump ball to Crosson, who ripped it away from a defender for his second receiving TD.

Nederland was held to a three-and-out on its next drive, punting the ball away to the WO-S 34.

Facing fourth-and-inches with the game on the line, Turner Jr. rushed for a 56-yard touchdown to bring the Mustangs ahead, 40-34.

The Bulldogs offense took the field with three minutes remaining. Despite their best efforts, they were unable to respond with a late drive downfield as Sunday’s fourth-down pass was batted down by Derrick Williams Jr.

The Mustangs ran the clock out, sealing a 40-34 win to advance to 1-0 in non-district play. They’ll face Little Cypress-Mauriceville at home next week.

Despite the loss, there were still encouraging signs for the Bulldogs. Thomas rushed for over 150 yards, while Tezeno tallied 105 yards through the air and three total TDs.

Nederland will look ahead to next week’s home game versus the Port Arthur Memorial Titans.

— Written by Keagan Smith