There are football games that some people will never forget. Some teams are just not supposed to win and when they do, boy howdy does it send waves through the football world. Appalachian State wasn’t supposed to win at Michigan at The Big House in 2007, but they did. Joe Namath and the New York Jets didn’t have a chance against the Colts in Super Bowl III, but they pulled it off. The Mansfield Tigers were serious underdogs on Friday, November 17 when they traveled four hours to take on the undefeated Hoxie Mustangs who were the 3A-3s 1Seed in the State Playoffs. Most statewide critics and media had Hoxie rolling over Mansfield with ease. But in what will become an instant classic for Tiger fans, Mansfield shocked Hoxie, the critics, and the entire 3A with a 14-13 victory.
Hoxie spent most of the season with the 3As stiffest defense. Leading up to their Round2 game versus Mansfield, the Mustangs led the 3A in points allowed by holding their opponents to 117 points in 11 games. That’s an impressive 10 points allowed per game average. But the Tigers didn’t exactly have what you’d call a powder puff squad on their defensive side either. Mansfield scored second place in the 3A in overall points allowed behind Hoxie in regular-season play. The Tigers slipped in their Round1 Playoff game against Centerpoint by allowing the Knights to score 22 points which quickly dropped their defensive rankings down to fifth place. While some saw this as a sure sign of Hoxie having the superior defense going into their game against Mansfield, the Tigers saw it as an opportunity to show the state that Mansfield football is more than mere strength of schedule and statistics on paper.
Mansfield’s defense got their first opportunity right off the bat when Hoxie elected to receive the opening kickoff and send their offense out on the field first. The Mustangs went to work quickly by running and passing the ball behind their massive offensive line. The Tigers defensive line was outsized, but they were able to make up for that with speed and ruthless aggression as they were able to pressure Hoxie’s quarterback into an ill-advised pass that senior, Peyton Martin, nearly took back for a pick-six. Although Mansfield didn’t get the interception, the Tigers defense kept their poise to get a turnover on downs two plays later. The Mustangs returned the favor by shutting down Mansfield on their opening offensive series forcing the Tigers to punt. Hoxie must’ve seen a hole in the Tigers armor as they marched the ball downfield on Mansfield’s defense with an offensive aerial attack marching 45 yards before capitalizing on a 32-yard pass for a Mustang touchdown. Hoxie added on the extra point to give the Mustangs a 7-0 lead over Mansfield early in the first quarter. The Mustangs would make it to the end zone again on a quarterback keeper, but it was called back on a holding penalty negating the touchdown. With Hoxie driving the ball easily against Mansfield and all of the game momentum in their pocket, Mansfield was looking like the team critics portrayed them to be as they went into the second quarter down 7-0.
The Tigers had their backs against the wall as the second quarter started with Hoxie’s offense only 34 yards away from their own end zone. That’s a situation where a lesser team would begin to lay down, but not Mansfield, not on that night. The Tigers defense rallied behind big tackles by Dakota Deer, Logan Ore, and Jeremy Strozier to force the Mustangs into a fourth-and-long situation. Determined to not back down, Hoxie went for it on fourth and 13 but Mansfield’s secondary provided lock-tight coverage to create an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs. Both team’s defenses owned the next two series as yards became harder and harder to come by and punts seemed the new norm. But when some things seem stuck, sometimes you just gotta spray some WD-40 on it to loosen things up. Mansfield Head Coach, Whit Overton, made an extremely risky play call that would hold the biggest reward for the first half. Quarterback Jeremy Strozier took the snap and threw the ball to Peyton Martin, but the pass was short and skipped off the ground before entering Martins hands. Once the ball hit the turf, Hoxie’s defense pulled off thinking it was incomplete, but in all reality, it was a lateral pass and a trick play. Martin, being a former junior high quarterback, then shot the ball downfield to a wide-open Daniel Burton for a 36-yard Tiger touchdown. Kicker Ethan Martin tackled on the extra point and just like that, the Tigers and Mustangs were all tied up at 7 points a piece on the scoreboard. With Hoxie in shock and the Tigers now roaring, Mansfield chose to take a knee on their next offensive possession as what was supposed to be a blowout, was all of a sudden a tied chess match at halftime with a 7-7 score.
Mansfield started the second half with the ball and senior Tyler Turnipseed decided to make the best of it. Turnipseed took the first offensive handoff of the half and gashed Hoxie’s defense for a 35-yard run. Hoxie would have the last laugh of the Tigers opening drive though as a Mustang defender made an amazing one-handed interception on a Mansfield fourth and long pass. The Tigers defense would again stuff Hoxie though forcing the Mustangs to punt giving Mansfields offense the ball back again at midfield. Daniel Burton caught a Jeremy Strozier pass on the perimeter of the field for a 19-yard gain and was followed up by Tyler Turnipseed with an 18-yard run up the middle putting Mansfield in scoring territory. The Tigers only gained seven yards on the next three plays, but finally punched the ball into the end zone on a one-yard quarterback sneak by Jeremy Strozier. Ethan Martin split the uprights for the plus one which set Mansfield up on Hoxie with a 14-7 score. Hoxie wasn’t 11-0 and first in the 3A-3 by accident though. The Mustangs stampeded the Tigers defense as they went 52 yards on merely 5 plays to put a Hoxie touchdown on the scoreboard. Hoxie elected to go for the tieing extra point kick, but senior Turner Wright and Dakota Deer somehow made it through the Mustangs line and blocked the extra point kick allowing Mansfield to maintain a very slim 14-13 lead to end the third quarter.
Football is a game that is played for four quarters and this Round2 clash of two of the 3As defensive titans would come down to who could battle it out until the final tick of the clock. No Constitutional Amendments or Geneva Convention laws would stop Mansfield and Hoxie from waging an all-out defensive war against each other’s offenses. Hoxie was able to get the upper hand on the Tigers defense though as the Mustangs quarterback took a direct snap and made a Kentucky derby run 72 yards for what would have been a Hoxie touchdown. Unfortunately for the Mustangs, a holding call again took Hoxie’s points off the board. Hoxie didn’t allow the penalty to stop them though as they methodically marched downfield to eat up yards and time off the clock. With just a hair over a minute left in the game, Mansfield’s fate seemed to be sealed as the Mustangs held a first and goal at the six-yard line. The Tigers defense allowed a three-yard run setting up second and three. Then another two yards to put Hoxie at third down and only one yard away from a touchdown and the win. Mansfield held strong though and only allowed half a yard on third down to put the game on the line with only one snap of the ball left. Fourth and inches. Advance to Round3 or go home. Who wants it more? Hoxie took the snap and bobbled the ball causing a fumble. The Mustangs recovered, but the recovery didn’t matter as the Tigers took over on downs with 0:17 seconds left in the game. The Tigers defense put the game on their backs and delivered big time. Mansfield’s offense lined up in victory formation and took a knee to run out the clock and move on to Round3 of the Arkansas State Playoffs.
Statistically, Hoxie had the superior defense. The Mustangs held the Tigers to 178 total yards while Mansfield allowed Hoxie to gain 280 yards in the game. But it wasn’t the stats that won the game, rather it was the Tigers determination against all odds on a goal-line stand that won the game for Mansfield. Mansfield wasn’t supposed to win. The stats, the critics, a four-hour road trip, and the undefeated 1Seeded Hoxie Mustangs were dead set against it. But through great coaching, determined players, and a loyal fan base, the Tigers defied all of the odds to win a game that will go down in Mansfield history as one of the greatest ever played by a Tiger team. Now that Mansfield moves on to the third round of the Arkansas State Playoffs for only the fourth time in school history. But they’ll again face the same odds as before as the Tigers will travel four and half hours northeast to face the undefeated and 1Seeded Salem Greyhounds out of the 3A-2. The Greyhound’s prolific offense has hung 460 points on opponents in eleven games this season while only allowing 166 points on defense. But the Tigers proved they can take on a number one team from across the state once already and will aim to do it again as Round3 starts on Friday, November 24th. So eat all the Turkey you want for Thanksgiving this upcoming Thursday and trade the dessert table for something even sweeter the day after. A slice of Mansfield Tiger state quarterfinal football.