GLEN ALLEN – When you’ve lost 23 of your last 26 football games, you look at a new season as a new opportunity. And when opportunity presented itself early in Mechanicsville’s season-opening drive Thursday night at Deep Run High School, Mustang head coach Ryan Turnage rolled the dice.
On fourth-and-12 inside Wildcat territory, rather than punt, Turnage gave the green light to junior quarterback Jordan Callahan who, after not finding an open receiver, took off and willed himself to a first down.
That spark turned into a Mechanicsville offense on fire, racking up over 250 yards of rushing offense in a 43-7 rout over Deep Run to give the Mustangs their first win since Oct. 11, 2019.
It wasn’t just the offense on fire, as the Wildcats visited Mechanicsville’s side of the field six times, but couldn’t find the end zone until the fourth quarter after the game’s outcome had long been decided.
“Defensively, we played really well in the first half. We felt like we had a good handle on what they would try to do to us,” Turnage said. “Our game plan was simple, and the kids played hard.”
After Callahan found Aaron Maxie on a 31-yard touchdown pass for the game’s opening score, the Mustangs struck again, thanks in part to a huge Deep Run mistake, as a snap to the punter on fourth down sailed over his head. The Mustangs took over at the Wildcat 7, and Cole Varner scored from 2 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
Colby Messe finished a second quarter drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to extend the lead, and, on the final play of the first half, kicker Thomas Richman nailed a 44-yard field goal which sent the Mustangs to the locker room in a frenzy leading 24-0.
The defense got into the scoring act as Maxie added another touchdown, this time stepping in front of a Deep Run receiver for an 8-yard interception return for a score to make it 31-0 with 4:52 left in the third quarter. Early in the final stanza, Varner broke open a 56-yard run to add six more points.
The Wildcats’ lone tally was courtesy of a Robert Paster run with 7:07 remaining. Mechanicsville’s Adam Elaal finished the scoring with a 7-yard run with 1:08 remaining.
The victory, while critically important for a young team searching to begin a new era roughly coinciding with the name change of the school and the team, came with some serious rough edges. The Mustangs committed 17 penalties for 165 yards.
It’s not easy to win a football game by 36 points while committing so many infractions. Turnage understands why it happened and had already started working on it in the postgame huddle on the field.
“We preach to them about being excited. Some of them took it a little too far,” Turnage said. “We’ll address it. We’ll take care of it.”
And while Mustang fans can certainly be excited about not only the win, but also the plethora of young playmakers on display on opening night, they should take the most pride into this Thursday’s home opener against Powhatan for the work done in the trenches.
On both sides of the ball, the Mechanicsville linemen consistently did their job, won their battles, and won them decisively. In the powerhouse battlefield known as Region 4B, where only eight of 17 teams will taste postseason play this year, they’ll need continued development along the lines, and reminders to keep the emotions in check.
“They’re going to be ready to play,” Turnage said of Powhatan, noting his long-time association with their head coach, Mike Henderson. “They’re a good football team, so we’re going to see what we’re made of right out of the gate.”
Rob Witham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.