MANSFIELD — Big Walnut lost a squeaker to host Mansfield Senior 20-19 in its season opener last Friday at Arlin Field.
“It’s a loss, but our kids played their guts out,” said BW head coach Joe Weaver. “I’m proud of the way they played the entire four quarters. They never let up, they never quit.”
It was a tough loss for a team that barely missed the playoffs last season despite a 7-3 record.
Senior running back Tyquan Vickers got the Tygers on the board at 8:24 in the first quarter after catching a 15-year touchdown pass from senior Brandon Swindall. The Eagles’ Isaac Lucas responded with a 5-yard touchdown run, but a missed extra point had Mansfield up 7-6 after the first quarter.
Lucas finished with 161 all-purpose yards, including 73 yards on 3 kickoff returns.
Back-to-back sacks by linebackers Abe Myers and Joey Schooley gave the Eagles good field position, and sophomore David Hunt put Big Walnut up with a 5-yard run early in the second quarter. Despite a snap that went over the punter’s head, the Tygers couldn’t cash in due to a great goal-line stand by the Eagles, and their field-goal attempt was blocked.
Vickers scored his second touchdown on a 1-yard run, but Big Walnut blocked the point-after attempt to keep things even at 13 midway through the third quarter. Hunt responded with his second touchdown to put the Eagles up 19-13 going into the fourth.
It looked like BW would control the fourth quarter with time-consuming fourth-down conversions by junior running back Evan Garcia. However, Mansfield did get the ball back, and a 30-yard pass completion led to a 2-yard touchdown run from junior Brian Benson (he had 108 yards on 18 carries and 6 first downs). Senior Colin Henley converted the second of his three point-after attempts to put Mansfield up 20-19.
The Eagles had a chance late, but fumbled with a couple of minutes left. The Tygers ran out the clock to avenge their 2014 season-opening 33-21 loss to the Eagles. In the stands, some Mansfield fans politely wondered where Big Walnut was located.
Statistically, the Tygers also won in time-of-possession (26:24 to 21:36); total yards (280 to 226); and didn’t commit a turnover.
Weaver said the move up from Division III to Division II wouldn’t be a factor this season, since Big Walnut was playing the same teams it normally faces. He credited Mansfield for being a good, athletic team.
“We’re going to learn from this and get ready for Canal Winchester,” Weaver said. The home opener with Canal Winchester takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.