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OPINION: No Time To Let Loss Linger

by Al Gaspeny / Special to McDonald County Press | September 16, 2021 at 7:25 a.m.

A program on the way up can't let one setback bring it down.

That's the challenge McDonald County faces after a 31-7 road loss to Lamar. The Mustangs had an opportunity to go 3-0 and knock off the defending Class 2 state champions. But too many McDonald County miscues and too much Lamar speed ended the upset hopes last Friday.

Even this early in the season, such a defeat can trigger a lingering effect. Especially for a team that's not a traditional power. But the Mustangs, building on last year's 5-5 finish and the first playoff win in school history, are on the right track. How do they stay there?

A good start is by remembering the sting of defeat, then working to avoid the feeling. It seems coach Kellen Hoover's players are doing that.

"You can do a lot with a team that hates to lose," Hoover said. "They left it all out there. I know our players hurt a lot. You could see the hurt from our players after the game."

Of course, missed tackles, botched assignments and other preventable mistakes must be addressed and reduced.

But the key to gaining confidence and developing a healthy sense of swagger is to watch film, see what succeeded and keep rolling with it. And there were encouraging signs despite the loss.

For example, the air attack is catching on. It was a little spotty but not really needed in the season-opening 33-22 win over Aurora. Against Springfield Catholic, quarterback Cole Martin and receivers Jack Parnell and Colton Ruddick began connecting as the Mustangs routed the Irish 45-6.

The upswing continued at Lamar. Martin went 14-of-21 passing for 139 yards. Those aren't gaudy stats, but they show improvement. Down 25-7 at halftime, McDonald County was forced to throw more and was effective at times by patiently taking what the defense allowed.

"That's a team that has a lot of athletes that can cover you," Hoover said of the Tigers.

The Mustangs managed only 79 rushing yards. But the offensive line created running room early, and Martin found success on keepers and scrambles. When Lamar pulled away, the offensive plan had to change. To its credit, McDonald County didn't panic, sticking with the ground game as long as possible. That sends a message to the players about staying the course, even amid adversity. Those lessons can pay off down the road.

His numbers weren't flashy and included an interception, but Martin showed why he's one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 8. Even under heavy pressure, the senior seemed to squeeze the most yardage out of every play, often by adjusting the call.

"Cole has a lot of control over our offense," Hoover said. "A lot of our plays have some type of out in the pass. He does a good job deciding when to get the ball out. He does a good job with his decision-making. He's got a really good command of what we're trying to do."

On defense, the Mustangs were determined that star Lamar quarterback Joel Beshore wouldn't beat them. He didn't. Beshore finished with 11 carries for 48 yards and no TDs. Other Tigers did the damage, not Beshore.

They're no longer undefeated, but a memorable season is still possible for the Mustangs. How they respond to the Lamar disappointment will set the tone for the rest of the way.

"We've got kids that are going to fight for each other," Hoover said.

Monett is next. It's homecoming, a perfect time for McDonald County to keep the program going up.

-- Al Gaspeny started as a sports correspondent for the Arkansas Gazette in 1987. He's worked for newspapers, including The (Springdale, Ark.) Morning News and the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, as a writer, page designer, editor or supervisor for more than 30 years. Gaspeny graduated from the University of Arkansas with a journalism degree. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Print Headline: No Time To Let Loss Linger

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