After dropping their first conference game against Hackett last week, the Mansfield Jr High Tigers had a choice to make. They could complain about it and just lay down for the season or they could accept the loss as a challenge to step up and become the team they know they can be. On Thursday, September 23rd that choice was made evident to Tiger fans as Mansfield traveled north to fight, bite, claw, and scratch their way to a 22-20 victory over West Fork.
Mansfield didn’t start the game with a bang as the Tiger’s defense was gashed for big yardage by the bigger West Fork offense for most of the first quarter. Offensively, the Tigers spun their wheels and were unable to move the ball very far downfield. It seemed like a preview of another inevitable loss to some of the Tiger faithful in the stands. But just when all seemed lost, that’s when the Mansfield defense forced a fumble and it was none other than the night’s team captain, Boston Elmore, who jumped on the loose ball to give the Tigers some life. But the fumble recovery wasn’t enough to get things going for Mansfield as the first quarter closed with a 0-0 score.
The second quarter saw some life from both teams with West Fork scoring on a 52-yard quarterback dash at the 7:48 mark. The size of West Forks players wore heavily on the Tigers offense as they tried to find a way to outmaneuver their bigger opponents. As the clock ticked down to seconds before halftime, Mansfield quarterback, Jeremy Strozier, was flushed from the pocket and threw a pass up for grabs. The pass seemed to be in the air for minutes rather than seconds and landed in the hands of both wide receiver Cooper Edwards and a West Fork defender. Edwards ripped the ball off the defender’s hands, made a sweet spin, and set the field ablaze as he darted to the end zone for a Tiger touchdown. Strozier punched in the two-point conversion to give Mansfield an 8-6 narrow lead going into halftime.
With momentum on their side, Mansfield came out of halftime hyped and ready to roll. Unfortunately, the roll was the Tigers defense getting rolled instead. West Fork ran the ball up the gut of the Tigers defense play after play gaining big yards on each snap. West Fork kept up the pressure on the Tigers and eventually scored with 5:42 left in the 3rd quarter. Adding the two-point conversion after the score, the Tigers would see themselves down 14-8. Mansfield’s defense stepped up after being bullied early on as Dominic Shores made a touchdown-saving tackle and Ethan Martin sunk his teeth into the West Fork backfield for tackles on multiple occasions. Both teams then beat and battered each other for the rest of the quarter with neither gaining any more ground.
Remember at the beginning of the article where it said that the Tigers had a choice to make? Well, they made their choice in the 4th quarter and that choice was very evident. The Tiger’s defense bowed up to the powerful West Fork offense as Dakota Deer hunted down the West Fork quarterback on multiple occasions. Deer wasn’t alone though. Toby Towe was in the valley of the giants at nose guard and still found his way through them to drag down running backs while Zander Walters and Strozier stuck anyone in their area with pure aggression. The defensive sure gave Mansfield’s offense the energy they needed to get the show going. With West Fork keying on Mansfield running backs, Zander Walters and Dawson Robinson, the channel was switched to the Strozier and Trey Powell pitch and catch show.
Strozier zipped back-to-back passes to Powell who smoked West Fork with each catch. After each pass to Powell, Strozier would roll out and run for big gains then go right back to a pass to Powell. Walters slid out to wide receiver where Strozier was able to dump a short pass to him for a Tiger touchdown. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful, and the game was tied up at 14-14. West Fork drove down for another touchdown with just 3:18 left in the game to take the lead again with a 20-14 score. The game is over. Time to lay down and accept it right? Wrong. The Tigers took less than a minute to drive downfield with Walters, Strozier, and Powell leading the charge. Powell jumped in the end zone for a Tiger touchdown which tied the game again at 20-20. It all boiled down to a two-point conversion for the lead which Strozier got, giving Mansfield a 22-20 4th quarter lead with just 1:07 left on the clock. West Fork got the ball back, but Toby Towe sealed the game when he stripped the ball from a West Fork running back allowing Strozier to recover the ball. The Tigers then ran the clock out to gain their first conference win over West Fork with a 22-20 final score.
It was the Tiger’s offense that was the surprise of the night. Normally Mansfield leans on their ground and pound offense due to a lack of passing efficiency. That was not the case versus West Fork. Quarterback Jeremy Strozier was 8 of 15 passing with three passing touchdowns. Zander Walters caught 4 passes for 27 yards and a touchdown, Trey Powell snagged 3 passes for 58 yards, and Cooper Edwards gained 49 yards on his solo catch of the night. All three receivers scored too. The Tiger’s newfound balanced offense gained 134 yards total passing and 106 yards on the ground. “This was a good team win,” said Head Coach Tim Cothran. “The players showed an excellent work ethic and positive energy in the game. We still have quite a bit of work to do in some areas on defense, but I’m very proud of them overall.” The victory puts the Jr Tigers at a 2-3 overall record and a 1-1 conference record. The teams only get better from here and next up will be the Greenland Pirates. The Tigers are winless at home this season, but that could all change now that they have found their place in the football world.