By TONY EIERDAM
A 5-5 record suggests exactly what the Mineral Wells Rams’ 2012 football season was: a series of ups and downs.
The Rams did find their future at quarterback as sophomore Caleb Acosta – a last-second replacement in the season opener when incumbent senior quarterback Dan Reay Turk was injured in practice – matured into the role of starting signal caller and gave Rams’ fans hope for next year.
It was also a banner year for senior running back Gilbert Castorena, who set a school record with eight consecutive games of rushing for 100 yards or more while he piled up an area-high 1,562 yards on the ground while reaching the end zone 14 times.
Castorena and Acosta’s success can be directly related to the play of the Rams’ starting offensive line of Jacoby Prestwood, Jacob Pilkington, Jared Lenamon, Jonathon Walker and Wyatt Egan, as Enrique Gamboa also filled in nicely as a starter when Egan was hurt midway through the season.
Perhaps the biggest “downer” of the season came when Lake Worth defeated the Rams at Ram Stadium in a key District 6-3A contest.
As it turned out, that was the game that kept the Rams from reaching the playoffs in three consecutive seasons.
Rams head coach Chuck Lawrence was more than pleased with Acosta’s week-to-week progress.
“Without a doubt, Caleb played well and got better each week,” Lawrence said. “He did have some sophomore moments, but he countered that with some really good moments.
“Caleb had control of the huddle, he is a big, strong kid who stood in the pocket and threw the ball well, and he matured as a quarterback as the season went on.”
Acosta was not the only sophomore who surprised Rams’ fans. Sophomore linebacker Josh Hardee led the teams in tackles in his first year on varsity, and also showed sparks at running back as he will be penciled in to replace two-time, first-team all-district running back Castorena next year while also being a leader on the other side of the ball.
Castorena was the Rams’ bell cow on offense as each game plan was centered around his skill and the skills of his offensive linemen.
“Gilbert set a school record with eight straight 100-yard games, and the offensive line took over a lot of those games,” Lawrence said. “Gilbert runs hard and has those good running back instincts, and he ran well all year.
“He gave a lot of credit to the guys up front (offensive line), and he and the O-line were the strengths of our team.”
After losing the season opener at Graham, the Rams demonstrated comeback ability in a 27-22 win over Wichita Falls Hirschi when Acosta threw a late 13-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Williams.
“We were on our heels early, but we had a great comeback,” Lawrence said. “I think that game started something that continued throughout the season and that is that these kids never quit.
“It didn’t matter if they were behind or ahead, they continued to play for four quarters.”
After falling at home to Glen Rose the following week, on Sept. 21 the Rams used their ground attack to pound on Iowa Park in a 34-21 road win.
The Rams rushed for 250 yards, 196 coming from Castorena.
“I think this game set the tone offensively for the rest of the season,” Lawrence said. “That win demonstrated the strength of our running game, which we feel was the strength of the team.”
MWHS followed with a 41-6 win over Burkburnett as Castorena ran over the Bulldogs with 259 yards and three touchdowns.
“That was a big win for us considering it was our last non-district game and a win before our bye week,” Lawrence said. “That gave us momentum heading into our district schedule.”
The Rams opened the District 6-3A slate with a wild 49-35 victory over Castleberry. Junior receiver/defensive back Colby Kissinger reached the end zone on offense and defense, scoring on an end around and returning an interception for a touchdown.
Castorena rushed for 221 yards and three TDs, and Acosta threw for 178 yards and a pair of scores.
“We played well at times in all three phases of the game, but we also gave up some big plays,” Lawrence said. “But we went there to become 1-0 in district, and we left 1-0 in district. That was an important ball game.”
Perhaps the most shocking game of the year was the Rams’ 39-14 loss to Lake Worth in a game that would eventually decide MWHS’ playoff fate. The Bullfrogs picked off four passes in the contest. MWHS had no answer for Lake Worth running backs Tim Woods and Maverick Chitty, who combined for 208 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.
“The Lake Worth game was the killer,” Lawrence said. “We weren’t prepared, we didn’t play well, didn’t tackle well and we turned the ball over.
“Everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong, but that’s football. Unfortunately, we did not play well in our most important game of the year.”
The Rams got back in the win column the following week against Diamond Hill in a 57-0 romp. Castorena rushed for 226 yards and three TDs, and Hardee eclipsed the 100-yard mark with 123 yards and a score.
“We played well in this game, and I expected us to play well,” Lawrence said. “The best part of the game was not getting anybody injured in a blowout.
“But our defense was put to a test at the end, and we blocked a field goal and got the scoop and score (returned blocked kick for a touchdown).”
The Rams’ playoff hopes were still alive when they traveled to Springtown the following.
The Rams had appeared to have tied the score late in the first half when Hunter Moss returned an interception of a tipped pass for a touchdown.
But officials ruled a face-mask penalty on the Rams previous to the turnover as Springtown kept possession and led 13-6 at the half.
However, MWHS gave up 28 third-quarter points – including mistakes on two kickoffs that led to 14 points – and lost the contest, 47-6.
“You can speculate all you want if the game would have turned out had Hunter’s touchdown not been called back, but we still trailed just 13-6 at the half,” Lawrence said. “But we had a meltdown in the third quarter that turned a great ball game into a not-so-great ball game.
“Other than the Lake Worth game, what I will remember most about this season was the third quarter at Springtown.”
The Rams still had slim playoff hopes when they hosted Kennedale in the 6-3A finale. But those hopes were quickly dashed as the district-champion Wildcats scored the first 28 points en route to a 63-28 win.
“Kennedale is a really good football team,” Lawrence said. “We scored more points on them than anyone had all season, but they were good enough to overcome that.”
The 2012 season was also the final high school football seasons for seniors Cody Harless, A.J. Williams, Isaiah Williams, Sean McGuire, Julio Garcia, Bryan Craig, Turk, Travis Mallory, Brian San Miguel, Castorena, Moss, Marcus Tamez, Juan Saucedo, Jared Lenamon, Egan, Prestwood, Matt Aguilar, Walker, Cris Valdez and Brandon Martinez.
“These guys started with me when they were freshmen,” Lawrence said. “Obviously, we would have liked to have made history with this group by being the first team in school history to make the playoffs three years in a row.
“That didn’t happen, but my hat is off to these seniors who never quit and played to the bitter end. I feel all of these guys will be successful in life.”
By TONY EIERDAM
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