By TONY EIERDAM
It was a season that began slowly but ultimately progressed upwardly for the Mineral Wells Rams football team in 2013.
Early season injuries caused a major shift in personnel, and some projected starters never made it past week one.
An 0-5 non-district record followed by a stunning District 6-3A-opening loss to Castleberry the team could have just packed it in for the season.
But the Rams came back and played a tight game with Lake Worth, then notched its first and only win of the season in a blowout at home over Diamond Hill.
But perhaps the real highlight of the Rams’ season was its last two games against its toughest district opponents, Springtown and Kennedale.
The Rams gave Springtown a tough game it did not expect, and MWHS ended up the season by scoring more points on district-champion Kennedale than any team in the league. Kennedale, by the way, played its starters in that game deep into the fourth quarter.
But the defining moment of the year was the Castleberry game, a contest the Rams knew they had to win to qualify for the playoffs.
Rams head coach Chuck Lawrence agreed that it was a loss the team could not overcome.
“Without a doubt, the Castleberry loss was our biggest loss of the year,” Lawrence said. “We knew the winner of that game was probably going to be in the playoffs, and that proved to be true.
“That was a big game, and I thought the kids prepared hard. We had some opportunities where we didn’t score, and we had a hard time stopping them. It just seemed like it was third and five, they got six; if it was third and three, they got four.”
A key moment came late in the game when the Rams tied the sore at 21-21. Castleberry ran the ensuing kickoff back into Rams’ territory. The return set up the game-winning field goal as Castleberry won, 24-21.
“We thought we could pin them down deep, but our coverage team – which had played great all night – made its only mistake of the game.
“That kickoff return by Castleberry was huge,” Lawrence said. “That was a big loss because we knew if we won and beat Diamond Hill that chances were good that we were going to make the playoffs.”
The Rams absolutely had to win their following district game at rainy Lake Worth. Playing its best defensive game of the year sans Diamond Hill the Rams held Lake Worth to just two touchdowns but could only muster one TD on offense.
“After our loss to Castleberry the Lake Worth game became our ‘Super Bowl,’” Lawrence said. “We knew we had to win that one to help our playoff chances.
“The kids played hard, and I thought when the rain started it bothered them, but we slugged through it. You take away the long run by the quarterback ... that was really the only play all night that our defense made a major mistake.
“We had some scoring opportunities that we did not capitalize on, but that’s football. I thought our special teams played well, and it was a game where we didn’t take advantage of the chances that we had and we gave up a big play.”
The Rams faced winless Diamond Hill next as the offense and special teams scored in the game and the defense pitched a shutout.
“We played a complete game,”Lawrence said.”You come to expect that against Diamond Hill, but we dominated in all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams.
“That was a game we hoped would springboard us into the Springtown game the following week.”
Springtown was next, and the Rams slugged it out with the Porcupines. The Rams trailed just 14-13 at the half and took the lead three times in the game. But the Porcupines wore down the shorthanded Rams, who because of injuries were forced to play several key players on both offense and defense.
Springtown outscored the Rams 21-6 in the second half to escape with the win.
“The kids just continued to compete against Springtown,”Lawrence said. “They competed all year long, all the way back to the beginning of the year when the injuries started to pile up and we lost most of our running backs and had to move receivers back to carry the ball.
“It was really the Burkburnett game (last non-district game) before we felt comfortable with the new look. When Mineral Wells and Springtown play it is usually a pretty good battle, and we played a good football game against a really good football team.
“Springtown can score a lot of points, and we knew we were going to have to slow them down. We weren’t sure we could stop them, but we knew we needed to slow them down.
“We did that for about three quarters. I never want to use this as an excuse, but the injuries started piling up on us again and we had guys going both ways and playing on every special team.
“Springtown runs a lot of plays, and we just flat wore down and weren’t able to compete in the fourth quarter.”
The Rams competed with Kennedale, but again wore down in the second half. The Rams scored more points on Kennedale (34) than any district opponent, and MWHS piled up 360 total yards on the district’s best defense.
“Our kids played hard and competed so well,”Lawrence said. “We did not play very well defensively, and as I say that I think about Kennedale’s two running backs who are extremely good football players.
“We knew we weren’t going to shut them down and had to try to slow them down, and I think we did a little of that early in the game.
“But once they got rolling offensively we just couldn’t hang with them. But for our offense to score that many points against that defense was satisfying.
“We got our offense going, (quarterback) Caleb (Acosta) made a remarkable left-handed screen pass, and he avoided a sack with a shuffle pass to Kelly Williams. We scored a lot of points, but when a team has Juwan Washington in its backfield it will also do a lot of scoring.
“Kennedale has a good football team, and I am anxious to see how far they goes in the playoffs.”
When Lawrence reflects on the 2013 season, he sees a team that fought in every second of every game despite being shorthanded.
“The kids never quit and played to the bitter end,” Lawrence said. “They played for four quarters every night, gave everything they had and left everything out on the field.
“That’s all you can ask of a football team. Sometimes you are going to go up against a team that is simply better than you are, but these kids never gave up and continued fighting no matter the circumstance.
“They played their hearts out, and I am very, very proud of the effort of not only this football team, but my coaching staff as well.”