In a season of heartbreaking finishes and close losses, it just figured that the fifth annual Magnolia Bowl would be decided by the slimmest of margins.
Despite an amazing fourth quarter comeback by the Magnolia Bulldogs, the Magnolia West Mustangs (4-3, 3-2 in District 18-4A) held on for a 21-20 win Oct. 12. The cross-town rivals were locked in a 7-7 tie until midway through the final stanza, when the fireworks began for the large crowd at MHS Stadium.
"What do you expect from a rivalry game," said West Coach Shawn Bell. "Both sides did a great job."
The Mustangs triumph was their fourth straight in the short history of the series. Magnolia (1-5, 0-4) won the first meeting in 2008.
West struck on their first possession of the game after Solomon fumbled on the Bulldogs first play of the game. The Mustangs moved 30 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 7-yard run by junior tailback Brady Bynum at the 8:27 mark. Senior Andrew Struthers' PAT made it 7-0.
Magnolia was forced to punt on their second possession, then West drove 31 yards to the 50-yard-line before an illegal substitution penalty on fourth-and-inches forced their own punt. The 'Dogs then rolled 60 yards in eight plays, capping the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run by Harris at the 9:24 mark of the second quarter. That drive was aided by a 19-yard completion from Edwards to Turnbow on second-and-long from the West 24 just before Harris's score.
West began another march from their own 31 and moved 37 yards into Magnolia territory. Two 15-yard pitch-and-catch plays from Logan to junior receiver Justin Smith loomed large, but on first-and-10 from the 'Dogs 32, Logan was intercepted near the endzone by junior Devane Mitchell.
After one more possession by each squad, the 'Dogs concluded the first half by moving to the Mustangs' 22 in two plays, with Turnbow gaining 35 yards on a reverse with 30 seconds left in the half. After a false start and three incomplete passes, Edwards was intercepted on fourth-and-15 by West's Jeremy Jordan near the goal line.
West completed a 17-play, 97-yard drive with 6:45 left in the game, when junior quarterback Troy Logan found Tyler Ray on a third-and-goal at the Bulldog 8-yard-line. Logan zipped a pass to Ray at the 1-yard line and the burly sophomore fullback crossed into the left side of the endzone for the Mustangs' first lead since early in the contest.
After the ensuing kickoff, Magnolia junior tailback Greg Solomon lost his second fumble of the night, this one recovered by Ray at the 'Dogs 11. Two plays later, Ray rumbled to paydirt from eight yards out, and West was up 21-7 with 5:53 left.
But starting from their own 26, the Bulldogs picked up 18 yards on three carries by junior all-purpose back Shyerome Harris. Then senior quarterback Damian Edwards, making his first career start in place of the injured Noah McGowan, hit senior wide receiver Jordan Turnbow in stride down the middle of the field for 56 yards and a touchdown. Junior placekicker Woodman Nigh's PAT made it 21-14 West with 4:05 remaining.
West then moved to the Bulldogs' 45, before quick-kicking on fourth-and-7 to the 'Dogs 15. Edwards, in rapid succession, found Turnbow for 35 yards, then junior receiver Marquis Robinson for 27 yards to the Mustangs' 23. The second pass was tipped and almost intercepted by West defensive back Zeke Bronson.
It was an improbable comeback after a light night for the Bulldogs offensively.
"I just kept playing," Edwards said.
On the next play, Harris took a handoff over right tackle, cut back to the left and dashed 23 yards for the TD. A high snap made Nigh's PAT no good, but an offsides penalty on West gave the 'Dogs a second try. This time, Magnolia Coach Andy Sexton elected to try a two-point conversion, but Harris was stopped near the goal line. It remained 21-20 West, which ran out the clock after the 'Dogs attempted recovery of an onsides kick.
"Our holder lost his helmet (on the first PAT) and by rule had to leave the field", Sexton said. "So we almost we had to go for two."
"I'm just glad our guys found a way to win," Bell said following the game. "It's a win, and that's all that counts."
Two of West's three losses this season have been by a combined total of 12 points (versus Stratford and Montgomery), while four of the Bulldogs' five losses have been by a combined 19 points.
Total offense for the two squads was nearly as close as the score, with the Bulldogs compiling 303 yards to the Mustangs' 297. West had 20 first downs to 14 for Magnolia. Edwards was 8 of 16 (with the one interception) for 176 yards through the air, four of those going to Turnbow for 51 yards, while Logan finished 11 of 21 (with one interception) for 133 yards, five caught by senior Trevor Buckley for 71 yards. The Mustangs ran for 164 yards, and the Bulldogs 127, with Harris gaining 85 yards on 15 carries, including his two touchdowns.
The Mustangs hosted Huntsville Oct. 19, while Magnolia travels to Waller.