ROBERT LEE – The Menard Yellowjackets took a big step toward claiming a district title in their first year transitioning from 11-man to six-man football, but it could have come at a big cost as they beat Robert Lee 64-38 in the District 13-1A Division I opener for both teams Friday at Griffith Stadium.
After scoring five TDs and piling up 249 yards on those five runs and also scoring on a 43-yard fumble recovery, Menard senior running back Joel Guerrero went out of the game just before halftime and it changed the complexion of the game.
Whether it changes the complexion of the Jackets’ season, first-year head coach Bryson Oliver was hopeful his star can bounce back from the knee injury that sidelined him in Menard’s first district game since moving down.
“We ran a little sweep play and he cut wrong,” said Oliver, whose team led 42-8 at the 3:47 mark of the second quarter after Guerrero’s 42-yard TD run and was back on offense for another series before halftime.
“We don’t know a whole lot yet, we’re hoping for the best,” said Oliver, who indicated Guerrero would have his knee assessed Saturday. “The best-case scenario is that he strained something or it’s a bone bruise, so we’re hoping for the best.”
Guerrero was an All-West Texas selection in 11-man and his speed and quickness has transitioned well to the six-man game as the Jackets have climbed to a 5-2 overall record. One of those wins was a forfeit and Oliver was unable to pick up another game, but it’s been a successful transition so far as the Jackets got a road win against a Robert Lee team that is enjoying its best start since 2014.
“We knew we were going to have to pound the rock and run the clock and just play smart football (in the second half),” the Menard coach said. “Most of our running backs are a little banged up, so I had to be real strategic in those last two quarters because they are a talented, talented football team …(with) the ability to rack up plays so I knew we were going to have to control time of possession.”
Because of the forfeit, the Jackets had two weeks to prepare for the Steers, who showed some quick-strike ability in scoring 30 points in the second half.
“We wanted to play another game but because of the forfeit I was able to work on them the last couple of weeks and we were breathing and eating Robert Lee with our cornflakes every morning,” Oliver said.
It was the 28-0 start in the first quarter – when Guerrero scored on runs of 48, 32 and 64 yards which sandwiched his 43-yard return on a fumble recovery – that ultimately doomed the Steers, who fell to 6-1, 0-1.
“We made too many mistakes early and with a team like Menard, that can’t happen,” Robert Lee head coach Lee McCown said. “They got the momentum early and by the time we can get much going, we’re trailing pretty good and started pressing a bit and are forced to do a lot of things we’re not used to doing.
“We threw the ball a whole lot more than what we have all year and when you’re trailing like that, you start having to do that.”
A key turn of events in the first quarter turned the momentum for the visiting team.
Leading 14-0, Guerrero's scoop-and-score pushed the Menard lead to 20-0 with 4:18 still left on the first-quarter clock.
Menard then recovered another Robert Lee fumble deep in its Jacket territory and on the next play, Guerrero took it 64 yards for the score to give the Jackets a 28-0 lead with 2:33 to play in the first quarter.
The Menard defense had a goal-line stand on Robert Lee’s first possession of the second quarter and Guerrero added a 63-yard score to give the Jackets a 36-0 lead before the Steers were finally able to score.
Playing with an early lead, Menard turned up the defensive pressure and was in the Robert Lee backfield disrupting the passing lanes, leaving some wide-open looks for the Steers, who were unable to capitalize until the second half.
Robert Lee put together back-to-back scoring drives to pull within 50-22 with 3:19 in the third quarter. Denver O’Dell got things started with a two-yard run with 4:13 to play in the third and Robert Lee’s Ryan Mendoza recovered a Menard fumble to set up Brayden Sherwood’s 8-yard run a minute later.
Isaiah Stanislawski, who carried the load for Menard in the second half after proving a powerful blocking weapon for Guerrero in the first half, scored on a 2-yard run to give the Jackets a 58-22 lead with 1:30 to play in the third.
Brody Pitcock hit Jaxon Tavarez on a 24-yard TD pass with three tics left on the third-quarter clock to pull Robert Lee within 58-30.
The Menard defense put the game away when John Michael Eggleston returned an interception 25 yards to make the score 64-30 with 7:23 to play.
Sherwood added a 45-yard kickoff return on the next play, but that was the last score for either team.
“This one was huge,” Oliver said. “(Robert Lee) is such a well-run program, and they’ve had a good year. This is a tough place to play and we were nervous rolling into this one.”
For the Steers, their first loss was a chance for McCown to see what his team needs to do to improve.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities and too many mistakes and when it got away from us, we weren’t able to get back,” McCown said. “I told them, sometimes you learn more from a loss than a win. We faced adversity and we kept fighting, but yeah, it’s their first loss so we’ll see how they respond. I told them I’d see them Monday and we’d keep working the way we work. We’ve still got some season ahead of us.”
The Steers (6-1 overall, 1-0 in district) travel to Veribest next Friday. Menard (5-2, 1-0) is open next Friday, returning to action with a home game against Veribest on Oct. 21.
District 13-1A Division I
Menard 64, Robert Lee 38
Score by Quarters
Menard 28 14 16 6—64
Robert Lee 0 8 22 8—38
M – Joel Guerrero 48-yard run (kick failed), 8:22 remaining
M – Guerrero 32 run (Roy Brown kick), 8:09
M – Guerrero 43 fumble recovery (kick failed), 4:18
M – Guerrero 64 run (Brown kick), 2:33
M – Guerrero 63 run (Brown kick), 6:39
RL – Brayden Sherwood 28 run (Brody Pitcock kick), 4:45
M – Guerrero 42 run (kick failed), 3:47
M – Isaiah Stanislawski 29 fumble recovery (Brown kick), 5:53
RL – Denver O’Dell 3 run (Pitcock kick), 4:13
RL – Sherwood 7 run (kick failed), 3:19
M – Stanislawski 2 run (Brown kick), 1:30
RL – Jaxon Tavarez 36 pass from Anthony Landeros (Pitcock kick), :03
M – John Michael Eggleston 25 interception return (kick failed), 7:23
RL – Sherwood 45 kick return (Pitcock kick), 7:15