Bulldogs gamble, win in OT on Homecoming


Michael White carries the ball during Friday’s homecoming game, a tight, back and forth thriller. Credit: Dave Pickering Photography
By: 
David Faries
Editor

When the call came, Isaiah Reams was ready.

Down 21-20 in overtime after a Dante Billups touchdown run, Mexico head football coach Steve Haag decided to risk going for two and the win rather than kicking the extra point to even things up with visiting Kirksville.

Moments before, the Bulldogs defense had almost taken control of the game themselves. On the opening possession of the overtime period, linebacker Matt McCurdy and lineman Quinton Campbell stopped Kirksville’s elusive quarterback Jaden Ballinger on the three, bringing up fourth down. An offside penalty gave the visitors another shot. But from first and goal inside the two, Mexico’s defense stood like a wall, stopping three consecutive runs.

On fourth down, however, Ballinger sprinted into the end zone on a counter. The Tigers added an extra point to go up 21-14 and set up the dramatic conclusion.

Mexico responded quickly. Runs by Michael White, Reams and Billups put the Bulldogs on Kirksville’s three yard line. From there, Billups punched it in.

Haag called Reams’ number and the junior running back raced to the left, crashed through two defenders and secured a 22-21 Mexico victory.
“I just knew we could get this if we worked together,” a jubilant Reams said.

Haag explained that the decision to go for two was based in part on the team’s confidence. They had answered every Kirksville score throughout the first half, fighting to a 14-14 draw. Despite struggling to move the ball in the second half, the defense stiffened and fended off every threat.

“This is huge,” said Mexico quarterback Ty Prince. “I knew Isaiah was going to get there.

The Bulldogs set the tone for the second half defensive battle early on. On Kirksville’s first possession after the break, Mexico snuffed out a third down screen pass. On their next set of downs, Prince and White dropped the Tigers’ prolific receiver Noah Copeland for a loss, forcing another punt.

Kirksville never managed to get into the red zone in the final 24 minutes of regulation thanks to this stout performance.

“In the first half our defense was lagging, but in the second it flipped,” Haag observed. “When they want to do something they can do it.”

The Bulldog’s offense almost settled the matter late in the third quarter. From midfield, running back Anthony Shivers slipped around the left end and scampered down the sideline. Tigers linebacker Lane Gordy eventually forced Shivers out of bounds on the Kirksville 39 and the opportunity slipped away.

Shivers gained 67 yards on just five carries.

“My teammates were blocking,” the sophomore explained. “I was getting great blocks.”

Billups carried much of the burden on offense, rushing 20 times for a team high 78 yards and scoring all three touchdowns. Reams added 50 on nine carries. Prince opted to keep the ball nine times, covering 32 yards. White tacked on 16 yards on five attempts. Andrew Runge and Ian Williams also saw action in the backfield.

Shannon Dorsey had the Bulldogs’ only reception on the night, a 37-yard catch and run late in the first half that moved the ball deep into Kirksville territory but failed to produce a score when the drive stalled a yard shy of the goal line.

Haag noted that the Tigers’ stand just before the half took a little steam out of his squad. Yet they were able to rebound.

“I think our guys needed to earn it,” the coach said of Friday night’s win. “We got a big one against Moberly coming up. It’s going to take a heck of an effort.”

Mexico travels to Moberly on Friday, with kickoff set for 7 p.m. But the overtime thriller over Kirksville resonated with the squad.

“We could win the conference,” Prince said.

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