It’s been quite some time since the JR Tigers program has seen success early in the season. Non-conference losses and conference losses at the first of each year have historically set the Tigers behind the chains each year. Although the trend of starting slow remained last year, Mansfield started roaring back late to earn the 3A-1 JR High Runner-Up position. That apparently set a higher bar for the JR Tigers this season as not only did they sweep their non-conference schedule, but are also 2-0 in conference play after a 38-8 route of West Fork on Thursday, September 22nd.
The eye test of the overall size of West Forks players would inherently tell fans that West Fork could pose problems for Mansfield. But the Tigers prove that the bigger they are, the harder they fall. It took the Tigers just two plays to get into the end zone off of a 27-yard run by Zander Walters followed by Ethan Martin scooting 23 yards for the score. Unfortunately, a penalty took the score off the board. The penalty may have taken away the touchdown, but not the Tigers determination. Zander Walters again took the ball for a solid 15-yard run putting Mansfield back in a position to score. Cooper Edwards called his own number and ran a “Cooper Keeper” 11 yards for a Tiger touchdown. Ethan Martin tacked on the two-point conversion and just like that Mansfield had 8-0 lead.
The Tigers defense earned their stripes with some big hits on West Forks offense. On West Forks first possession, Mansfield’s Zander Walters and Dawson Robinson speared their way into football folklore with some atomic tackles. Defensive end Matthew Burton showed his athletic abilities when he swatted a pass down while being blocked. Linebacker Alex Hecox closed out West Forks initial drive when he telegraphed a pass and yanked the receiver down at the point of contact forcing West Fork to punt on fourth down. Mansfield again hit the ground running on offense as Dawson Robinson took the ball for a 27-yard gain and then topped it off with a 5-yard Tiger touchdown run. The Tigers failed on the two-point conversion but still led the game 14-0. West Forks offense went back on the field, but only temporarily. It only took two plays for defensive end Braxton Bartlett to strip the ball from a West Fork running back allowing Logan Ore to recover the fumble. The turnover closed the first quarter out with the ball and a 14-0 lead.
Mansfield kept the train rolling on the ground with the first play of the second quarter going to Dominic Shores on a speed sweep for 23 yards. Zander Walters jumped into the end zone untouched from 9 yards out for another Tiger touchdown. Cooper Edwards zipped a pass to Joseph Carter for the two-point conversion. The play of the night happened on the ensuing kickoff when Dawson Robinson punched the ball out of the West Fork returners hands. As the ball flew in the air, Matthew Burton was able to snag it and rumble down to the 20-yard line before being pushed out of bounds. Mansfield was pushed back by penalties, but Dawson Robinson quickly made up for that with a 35-yard sprint down the sidelines for a Tiger touchdown. Zander Walters knocked out the two-point conversion putting the Tigers ahead of West Fork 30-0. Mansfield would again force West Forks offense to fumble. Head Coach, Tim Cothran, made the call for his assistant coaches to sub out the starters. Unfortunately for West Fork, that didn’t help any. Running back Travien Copeland took back-to-back handoffs and on the second one juked and jived his way to a 26-yard Tiger touchdown. Gunner Williams put in the two-point conversion. The Tigers would get another turnover on defense with Pacen Strozier recovering a fumble as Mansfield would walk into halftime with a solid 38-0 lead on the West Fork Tigers.
Mansfield coaches Tim Cothran, Keith Stovall, Layton Robinson, and Daniel Martin put their minds together during the halftime break and subbed out their entire starting offense and defense for the second half. Although the Tigers knew that their backups were playing, it’d be hard to convince West Fork of that as the Tigers still did a knockout job on both sides of the ball. Defensively, every Tiger on the field showed fans that not only is the future of Mansfield football bright, but it’s also downright blinding. Although the defense allowed West Forks only touchdown, players like Pacen Strozier, Dalton Knowles, Jonathan Boswell, and Colton Lawson made sure West Forks offense was punished for each yard gained. West Fork still couldn’t pass against the Tigers defense as Mason Sterling, Gunner Williams, Holden Powers, Dakota Bock, and Chris Dickinson smothered West Forks receivers. Freshman Ronnie Rinehart made his presence known in the second half also with a handful of big tackles and constant pressure in the backfield.
Offensively Mansfield brought in 7th Grader Hunter Whittaker to quarterback the Tigers offense. Gunner Williams ran the clock down with big gains of 17 and 43 yards before the clock hit 0:00 giving the Tigers a 38-8 final. Mansfield now sits undefeated across the board with a 3-0 nonconference record and a 2-0 conference record. The JR Tigers may be making waves with their wins, but they’re still 0-0 in their minds. Next in line for Mansfield will be the Greenland Pirates on Thursday, September 29th. Facing the Pirates at Greenland is never an easy task so the Tigers will definitely be preparing to bring their “A Game” to NWA.