Iola High did what young teams littered with players getting their first taste of varsity football often do.
They made mistakes.
Likewise, visiting Santa Fe Trail did what good teams often do.
They made the Mustangs pay.
Iola more than held its own for much of the first half against the state’s fifth-ranked Class 4A-II Santa Fe Trail squad. But a pair of costly fumbles — and even costlier subsequent third-down passes — turned the tables squarely in Santa Fe Trail’s favor.
The Chargers scored twice in the final 43 seconds of the half to turn a 13-6 deficit into a 22-13 lead.
The young, tiring Mustangs mounted nary a challenge after intermission as Santa Fe Trail ground its way to a 41-13 victory.
“Once we got down two scores, we knew it was going to be real difficult,” Iola head coach Doug Kerr said, “and we kind of panicked a little bit.
“But we saw way more positives than negatives tonight,” Kerr continued. “I’m real proud of the kids.”
The Mustangs stayed in front in the early going.
Junior quarterback Ben Cooper, in his first ever varsity start, found running back Keenan Badders in the flat on third-and-two. Badders rambled 50 yards down the sideline for a 7-0 advantage, less than three minutes into the contest.
It was a marked difference from last year’s matchup between these teams, in which Santa Fe Trail shut out the Mustangs.
Even after the Chargers marched down the field to cut the gap to 7-6, Iola showed it was ready to fight.
A fumbled hand-off on Santa Fe Trail’s next possession was recovered by the Mustangs’ Gus Luedke at the Charger 27.
Cooper found Ethan Scheibmeir on an 11-yard swing pass on third-and-nine before Scheibmeir rambled 14 yards to the 1.
Keenan Badders bowled his way in two plays later for the 13-6 advantage at the 9:48 mark of the second quarters.
Iola forced a Charger punt, and was marching to midfield when disaster struck.
A fumbled exchange sent the ball bounding toward the Iola goal line. A Charger defender fell on the ball at the Mustang 45.
Santa Fe Trail moved the ball into scoring territory as the clock ran into the final minute of the half.
A holding penalty negated a Santa Fe Trail touchdown, and the Mustang defense corralled the Chargers’ Daniel Courtwright for a six-yard loss, setting up third-and-16 with 49 seconds left.
The Chargers perfectly executed a screen pass from Bryce Erickson to Seth Coltrane for a 16-yard touchdown with 45 seconds left.
The misery wasn’t ending.
The ensuing kickoff bounced off returner Tayton Driskel’s knee pad. A Charger defender was there for the recovery.
Again, Iola’s defense stiffened, forcing a third-and-20 with 24 seconds remaining.
But Erickson found tight end Ethan Dean up the middle for a 26-yard pass, setting up a first-and-goal.
Trevor Boudeman scored on the next play for a 22-13 advantage.
“That kind of let the air out of our sails,” Kerr said. “Those things happen. They’re a part of football. I think we’ll be a good football team, hopefully sooner than later. We have to learn from this and mature from this.”
THERE WERE several mistakes to take to the practice field, Kerr noted.
“Some things you can’t learn until you get in a game and go through them,” he said. “That’s why it’s so hard to prepare for a game like this. That’s why we have to call time-out when we had 10 guys on the field. Or we have somebody go in but forget to tell the guy he was replacing. And we started getting tired late. We’ll be fine.
“But we were much improved over last year,” Kerr continued. “My hat’s off to some of the kids who stepped up and filled in some gaps for some people because of injuries and kids getting tired.
“Ben Cooper, for his first start ever, did a great job. I’m proud of him. Ethan and Keenan both did a great job out of the backfield. We had kids like Nic Zimmerman play in his first game every at nose guard. Brett Taylor played nearly every snap, and gave us some good leadership.”
Scheibmeir and Badders shared team rushing honors with 38 yards apiece. Cooper completed 6 of 16 passes for 113 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
Cole Regehr had 13 tackles and Nick Vaughn 12 to lead the Mustang defense. Luedke added 11 tackles and a fumble recovery. Badders chipped in a sack.
Isaac Vink pulled in a second-half interception, and narrowly missed a second after getting turned around on another errant pass.
Santa Fe Trail racked up 315 yards on the ground, led by Courtwright’s 130.
The Mustangs (0-1) travel to Prairie View next Friday.