By Zach Walker
How’d it go for the Mustangs?
It was Senior Day for the Mustangs, on their last home game of the season and their final chance to get their first win at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
The first drive was a Mustangs three and out, the first play was an 8-yard sack with the ball falling out of bounds after Steven Taylor jarred the ball loose from Matt Davis. On third down, Davis actually had a very clean pocket, because the Cougars were playing contain on Davis, but he overthrew Der’rick Thompson, who had gotten his hips flipped on the play and couldn’t recover.
After a terrible 19-yard punt, the electric Greg Ward Jr., took the ball 38 yards for the quick score. Another three and out from SMU, and Houston was on the move again. An 11-yard pass to Deontay Greenberry on second down, then another huge rush by Ward for 29 yards, followed by another first down rush by Ryan Jackson for 12. But the Mustangs would hold after a second down false start, with Robert Seals taking down Kenneth Farrow for a loss of 4. On third down, Ward was forced to scramble and couldn’t connect with Greenberry, and the field goal by Kyle Bullard was missed right.
Matt Davis on third down, broke away from a sure sack by Joey Mbu, and managed to pick up two of the needed 6 yards to convert the third down, but it was a strong play by Davis. The Cougars would move the ball down to the 32 yard line in only four plays, but wouldn’t pick up anymore yards in the next two attempts to bring up a fourth down. Greg Ward looked to gain just about all of the necessary 9 yards for the Cougars first down, but the play was reviewed and ruled that Ward was tackled by Horace Richardson short of the line to gain, and the ball went over on downs.
Davis would hook up with Prescott Line for a 10-yard swing pass on third and 3, but wouldn’t get another first down and in punting the ball, the coverage team did my favorite thing, interfere with the returner after he called a fair catch, so instead of the Cougars starting at the 21 yard line, Houston gets to start at the 36 yard line. The Cougars would hand the ball off two straight plays, first to Jackson for 4 yards, then Farrow for a single yard. On the third down pass towards Greenberry, Darrian Richardson broke the play up. Instead of a punt, the punter Logan Piper ran the ball for the first down, but again, after the review, the ball went over to the Mustangs. The Mustangs took over at the Houston 45 yard line, and went backwards after a first down gain of 4 yards by Matt Davis, with a Steven Taylor sack of Matt Davis, and a bad end-around to Darius Joseph for a loss of 5 to force a punt.
Ward started the drive with a shot to Markeith Ambles for 17 yards on first down. Then a disconnect between Ward and the receiver Steven Dunbar, but went back to him for a short 3-yard gain on second down. But on third down, Jonathan Yenga batted the pass into the air, and John Bordano hauled in the interception at the Houston 46, and returned it to the Houston 42. Matt Davis found Deion Sanders Jr. on two passes, both 7-yard gains that set up two second and 3’s. After KC Nlemchi picked up the 3 yards for the first down, Chauncey Briggs was called for a 15 yard chop block on first down. After getting nothing on first and 25, the Mustangs gained 13 yards on a run from Luke Seeker, and another catch from Deion Sanders Jr., to make the field goal more manageable for Cody Rademacher, but the 38-yard attempt was blocked by Gavin Stansbury.
The Cougars would be forced to punt because of tipped passes on consecutive plays by Ajee Montes and Jonathan Yenga. And despite picking up 10 yards, the Mustangs punted back to Houston, but the coverage worked and the ball was downed at the 2 yard line. The Cougars ran Farrow twice for 5 yards and some breathing room, but on third down, the Mustangs coverage was solid and Mason Gentry wrangled Ward in, and Ward threw the ball away, but was still in the pocket and was in his own endzone, so the defense got the safety. After the safety punt, Matt Davis was sacked on first down, and threw an incomplete pass for Jeremiah Gaines. On third and 17, Davis would find Gaines on a crossing pattern, and Gaines and his 230 pound frame activated the turbo and straight burned the chasing Houston defenders, for a 67-yard touchdown catch and run. When a big guy like Gaines, has speed like that to pull away from defenders, it’s poetry in motion, it’s graceful, and it’s a dangerous weapon that has been scarcely used by the offense. But in four snaps and whistles, the Mustangs scored 9 points to take the lead.
The Cougars would get a drive going just before the half ended, but Zach Wood would end the drive with a sack of Ward as the half expired, and the Mustangs would continue to wish that they could play 24 thirty minute games, instead of 12 sixty minute ones, because the team that went into the locker room at half time, would not return to the field in the second.
The Houston drive to start the second half would be the Kenneth Farrow show, accounting for 46 yards on 6 plays, capping it off with an 11-yard touchdown run on second and 1. The Mustangs would move the ball, and be aided with a defensive pass interference call on third and 9, but after the call, Davis would throw three straight incomplete passes to kill the Mustangs drive, but again, the punt was pinned deep in Cougars’ territory, this time at the 1 yard line. Three of the first four plays for Houston were completions of ten or more yards, then a Ryan Jackson 25 yard run on second and 8. Horace Richardson would have a great pass breakup on first down, then be called for pass interference on second down. A series of running gains would move the chains down to the SMU 3 yard line. On first and goal, Robert Seals would stop Kenneth Farrow for a loss of 1, and on second down, solid coverage and pressure would force Ward to throw the ball away. On third and goal, Ward would keep it himself and score from 4 yards out to make it a 21 to 9 game after a 15 play, 99 yard drive.
The game changed for the Mustangs on the next possession, after a KC Nlemchi rush for 3 yards, Matt Davis was totally hammered by Matthew Adams, right in the back and Davis lost the football and Gavin Stansbury recovered for Houston. It was a short journey to the endzone for Houston, and in three short plays, Farrow ran the ball in from 14 yards out to basically exterminate the fire from any hope that the Mustangs could come back in the game with the score being 28-9. The Mustangs went three and out, but the Mustangs’ Stephon Sanders and Jonathan Yenga forced the Cougars backwards and got the ball back for the offense.
The Mustangs overcame a trove of farcical penalties including back to back holding calls setting up a first and 30, and I would have lost a cubic ton of money, because the Mustangs picked it up, but the Mustangs wouldn’t convert the next fourth down opportunity, and the Cougars would take the ball and score and basically end the game and leave the Mustangs with the last chance for their first, and now, possibly their only win.
Best and Worst plays of the Game:
BEST: The catch and run by Jeremiah Gaines. He’s six foot two, 230 pounds, and he absolutely peeled away from the pursuing Cougars’ defenders. His size and speed, teamed with him being a sophomore, the next offensive coach of the Mustangs, has a serious weapon on their hands that they can impose on opposing teams.
WORST: The sack/forced fumble of Matt Davis by Matthew Adams. The hit was violent, nearly a not-safe-for-work clip, and Matt Davis really showed his tough-guy card to any future coaches. The game was still in a possible comeback stages for the Mustangs, and Adams made a super play for his team.