Special teams lead Redwood to defeat Mustangs

Redwood’s AJ Garza Jr. runs the ball against Tulare Western at the Mineral King Bowl on Friday night. Thanks to defense and special teams, Redwood defeated Tulare Western, 17-6.(Kason Clark)

A blocked punt for a touchdown spearheads a 17-6 win for the Rangers over Tulare Western; both teams are now 2-2 on the season

VISALIA – In their second straight Friday night at the Mineral King Bowl, the Tulare Western Mustangs were looking to win their second straight game at the stadium. However, the Redwood Rangers defended their home field with a 17-6 win over the visiting Mustangs.

It was not easy for the Rangers at home though as the offense struggled throughout the night. But their special teams unit made plays with a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown, a field goal and a good return on a kickoff to set up a short field for a touchdown.

“I credit the victory to our defense and special teams,” Redwood head coach Kevin Scharton said. “We had a hard time running the ball, throwing the ball and I think our defense really bailed us out.”

Both the Tulare Western and Redwood defenses played well, especially in the first quarter where neither team even recorded a first down. Just a week prior against Mt. Whitney, the Mustangs used the ground game to march up and down the field. But this week, the Rangers were prepared for the Tulare Western ground attack.

“Our defense just had to rely on their keys, and trust their keys, and I thought they did a pretty good job at that,” Scharton said. “We shut their running game down early which forced them to throw the ball.”

The first big play of the night came on special teams when the Rangers blocked a Tulare Western punt; Enrique Segura recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown to give Redwood a 7-0 lead. While offense and defense get all the attention, Tulare Western head coach Derek Rosa believes the Mustangs dropped the ball when it came to special teams.

“We have to play all three phases and treat every phase like it’s the most important,” Rosa said. “I think right now, we have the mentality of putting special teams on the back burner, and that killed us tonight.”

Early in the second quarter, the Mustangs finally got a drive going on offense. However, the drive ended with a sack on fourth down in Redwood territory. Later in the half, the Mustangs got the ball back and had to punt.

This is when poor play on special teams reared its ugly head again for the Mustangs. On the punt, a bad snap went over the punter’s head, and he had to fall on the ball deep in Tulare Western territory. The Rangers capitalized on the mistake with a field goal from Dallas Harris to make it a 10-0 game heading into halftime.

The third quarter saw both teams continue to struggle on offense. One Tulare Western drive ended with quarterback Xavier Garcia throwing an interception to Harris. But the Mustangs found a spark early in the fourth quarter.

Garcia got the drive started with a couple completions to get the Mustangs onto Redwood’s side of the field. Then on the Redwood 34-yard line, Garcia connected with Danny Azevedo on a jump ball for a touchdown deep down the right sideline. The Mustangs failed to score on the two-point try, but they now only trailed 10-6.

But the special teams beat the Mustangs again as Redwood’s Jimmie Burk returned the ensuing kickoff to the Mustang 40-yard line. Thanks to several runs and a personal foul on the Mustangs, the Rangers marched down to the Mustang two-yard line. Alex Perch then dove into the end zone for the score to extend the lead to 17-6.

The Mustangs put together a solid drive as they tried to stay in the game. But the drive ended with another failure to convert a fourth down, and that all but sealed it for the Mustangs. The loss dropped the Mustangs to 2-2 as they head into their bye week. With no game next week, Rosa hopes the time off will prove beneficial for his players.

“We need to get healthy,” Rosa said. “We need to fix some mistakes, get healthy and then special teams will be a big part of the practice plans.”

The Rangers are now 2-2 on the season with their victory. Just like the Mustangs, the Rangers are banged up after playing four games this season. But in Redwood’s victory over Tulare Western, Scharton saw his team’s depth and he hopes that will be a strength for them as they move forward.

“We had a few stars out tonight but a positive we had was that some guys did step in and help us seal that victory,” Scharton said. “We had some guys step up and play some different positions tonight so that was a positive.”

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