When it comes to the first conference game of the season, coaches and players alike have a lot on the line. Of course, you want the win, but you also want to put on a dominant show for the rest of the conference to see. The Mansfield Tigers tripled that pressure though on Friday, September 22nd as they welcomed the West Fork Tigers to the Jungle for homecoming. West Fork has created quite the Tiger tussle against Mansfield over the years beating the Tigers in 2020 and 2021 before Mansfield was able to edge them out for a win in 2022. But with all of the detractions and pressure put on the shoulders of Mansfield for this years game, could they pull off the win?
West Fork opted to start the game by receiving the opening kickoff to try and get a jump on Mansfield. That move proved to be fatal for them though as it played right into Mansfield’s strength, their defense. The Tigers mauled West Fork’s run game pinning them back early with a third down and nine yards before forcing a fumble which gave the Tigers offense an opportunity to shine. Two plays later, Daniel Burton blinded West Fork with a 41-yard scamper into the end zone for a Tiger Touchdown. Jeremy Strozier tacked on the extra point kick and just like that, the Tigers were up 7-0 on West Fork. With Mansfield’s defense only off the field for two plays to catch their breath, the Tigers defense decided they would give West Fork no choice but to let them rest. On West Forks’ second play of their second drive, Mansfield got their second turnover of the game with a Tyler Turnipseed interception. The Tigers offense slowed down the pace a little running behind Andrew Burton and Tyler Turnipseed to wear down West Forks massive-sized defensive line. The game plan panned out too as West Fork tightened their defense which allowed quarterback, Jeremy Strozier, to find Peyton Martin on a nine-yard pass for another Tiger touchdown. Strozier would add an extra point with an extra point kick giving the Tigers a 14-0 lead with plenty of game left to play.
Junior, Dakota Deer, led another defensive stance for Mansfield with the speed and tenacity of a true Tiger which created chaos for West Fork at every turn. The pressure led to a punt attempt by West Fork, but instead, the snap was bobbled and defensive lineman, Ethan Martin, came up with the Tigers third consecutive turnover in the first quarter. With a short field and all of the momentum in the Tigers corner, Andrew Burton took a handoff on the Tigers second offensive play after the turnover and roared 20 yards for, you guessed it, another Tiger touchdown. West Fork was able to block the Tigers extra point kick, but Mansfield was still left with a commanding 20-0. Mansfield’s defense as a whole again proved that they’re both the rock and the hard place that opponents get stuck between as James Bausley, Zander Walters, and Jeremy Strozier shut down the black and gold Tigers to force another West Fork punt. West Fork bowed up a little bit putting Mansfield in a third and long position, but that didn’t last long as Daniel Burton bounced outside on West Fork’s defense and jetted downfield 68 yards for a Tiger touchdown. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful leaving the score at 26-0. Mansfield’s defense remained in control, but the offense sputtered a little bit for the remainder of the second quarter. The Tigers were able to stuff West Fork at their own one-yard line for a turnover on downs, but that pinned the Tigers back into their end zone which resulted in a two-point safety for West Fork at the end of the half. Even with a minor slip-up, Mansfield was in full control going into the half with a 26-2 lead.
The second half of the game was dominated by Mansfield’s defense and unfortunately, some penalties and mental mistakes too. For nearly every big play, there seemed to be a flag to follow leaving the game at a relative stalemate between the teams. It was a back-and-forth battle as West Fork was able to put together some good drives in the second half but couldn’t break through on Mansfield’s defense. The Tigers were able to punch through late in the third quarter to take a 32-2 lead on West Fork. Both teams would cross into the end zone in the fourth quarter, but Mansfield still rolled out with the homecoming victory by defeating West Fork with a 38-8 final score. The victory gives Mansfield a 4-0 overall record and more importantly, puts them at 1-0 in conference play. Mansfield now faces a gauntlet on their schedule as they travel to Greenland, host Booneville, go to Charleston, and then will square off with an offensive onslaught in Lavaca. But the Tigers one game at a time mentality doesn’t tell the future, it only tells who’s next. The Greenland Pirates have held the Tigers’ number over the years as the Pirates have defeated Mansfield the past four years straight. Greenland currently sits with a 1-3 overall record after losing 51-9 to the defending State Champion Charleston Tigers. All bets are off when Mansfield plays Greenland though as both teams play hardnosed football, and both are eager to prove themselves to the entire state of Arkansas. It’ll be a game of the ages on Friday, September 29th as Mansfield travels to northwest Arkansas to face the cannons of Greenland.