The Mexico Bulldogs football team came up just short Thursday night, losing 12-6 to the Kirksville Tigers on the road in the opening round of district play.
The loss ends the season for the Bulldogs, who finished 3-7 overall. Kirksville will advance to play No. 1 seed Helias, 69-14 winners over Marshall in round one, next Wednesday in Jefferson City.
After a scoreless first quarter by both teams, an interception by Skylar Harrington gave the Bulldogs the ball at the Kirksville 35-yard line early in the second quarter. Mexico would move the ball to the 7-yard line before a holding call pushed them back to the 16.
Two plays later a 5-yard run by Jamel Taylor got them as close as the 9-yard line but brought up 4th down. The Bulldogs elected to try a field goal but Cole Jaramillo's kick missed wide right and Kirksville took over at the 20.
"It would have been real big to score then," said Mexico head coach Ty Harrison. "We knew the game would be close and every point would matter."
It wouldn't be long before Mexico did get on the board though. On the next possession Kirksville was facing a 3rd-and-7 from the 23-yard line when Tyler Bracht made a sliding catch for an interception giving the Bulldogs the ball once again.
After a Taylor run and an incomplete pass, Bracht and Taylor connected on a middle screen pass for a 32-yard touchdown. The PAT failed but Mexico took the 6-0 lead at the 4:11 mark of the second quarter.
"We did a nice job picking up some first downs. They were running upfield hard and so the screen pass went big," Harrison said.
The momentum shifted once again though when Kirksville took went on an 8-play 65-yard scoring drive, capped off by a touchdown run by senior running back Blake Riley with 46.4 seconds to go before halftime. The two-point conversion play failed and the two teams went into halftime tied at 6 apiece.
Kirksville had the ball the majority of the third quarter, allowing the Bulldogs only one possession. The Tigers were able to move the ball but also allowed the play clock to run down frequently, eating up valuable minutes. Controlling the time of possession generally puts the opponent at a disadvantage.
"It limits our touches on offense and wears you down on defense," Harrison said.
Near the end of the third quarter the Mexico defense had Kirksville backed up and forced a 4th-and-11 but the Tigers faked a punt and connected on a pass for a 23-yard gain. Kirksville picked up two more first downs before they were facing 3rd-and-10 from the 19-yard line as the third quarter ended.
On the first play of the fourth quarter Kirksville junior quarterback Makenna Cook connected with senior Nathan Farnsworth for a touchdown pass. The two-point conversion failed but the Tigers went up for good 12-6.
Page 2 of 2 - "We gave up too many big plays to their offense and we didn't produce enough points on offense," Harrison summed up.
Kirksville outgained Mexico with 295 yards total offense (225 rushing, 70 passing). Mexico had 140 total yards on 93 yards rushing and 47 yards passing.
Senior running back Jamel Taylor led the Bulldogs with 109 yards on 22 carries and passed the 1,000 yard rushing mark for the season with 1,003 total yards.
Mexico improved on its 1-9 campaign last year and with the exception of the game against state-ranked Moberly, the Bulldogs were in every game. The team was competitive to the point that in several games, if a few plays here and there had gone differently, they could have nearly doubled their win total.
While Harrison is happy with the progress the Bulldogs have made, he is ready for the team to continue working in the offseason to get stronger.
"We were a lot better this season. Our record doesn't indicate it maybe but the level at which we competed was way higher," he said. "We have made some strides in our strength level that has helped. We are not where we want to be though. We have a lot of work ahead and it all starts in our offseason weight program."
STATS LEADERS: PASSING: Bracht 4-10, 1 INT, 1 TD; RECEIVING: Taylor 2-39, Harrington 1-7, Jaramillo 1-1; RUSHING: Taylor 22-109, Ekern 1-3. TACKLES: Ekern 14, Chance Harper 14, Laine Chedwick 8, Austin Logerman 8, Payton Turner 8.