Farwell sophomore wide receiver Brett Howard yanks the ball away from Friona cornerback Juan Reyes in the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Farwell went on to beat the Chieftains 28-10 on Friday in Friona. (Staff photo by Rick White)
By Rick White: CNJ managing editor
FRIONA — Rowdy Mitchell figured with time running out on Friona it would be just a matter of time before he saw the play again.
The Farwell senior’s intuition paid off with a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown with a little under two minutes left Friday that put the exclamation point on a hard-earned 28-10 win over the Chieftains in a battle of Parmer County neighbors.
“They’d been running the same play,” said Mitchell, a sturdy 5-foot-10, 176-pound linebacker and running back. “I just dropped back into coverage and the ball came right to me.”
“I couldn’t have done it with the other 10 guys around me,” said Mitchell, sweeping his arm around the tiny visitor’s locker room that was buzzing with energy after a win against the county’s biggest school. “The guys did a great job of putting pressure on (Friona quarterback Derek Fairweather). I don’t think he saw me.”
Mitchell’s touchdown capped a 21-point second half as the Steers (3-0) remained undefeated.
The first meeting in more than two decades between the former county rivals was a hard-hitting, defensive struggle laced with spurts of big plays.
• Midway through the first quarter, Farwell’s do-it-all senior Robbie Tabb (134 yards on 14 carries) prevented a Friona touchdown by forcing a fumble after a 71-yard pass play. Three plays later he raced 72 yards the other way on a quarterback keeper to set up the game’s first score, a 21-yard pass from backup quarterback Logan McFarland to Brett Howard.
• The lead didn’t last long as Steven Sanchez fielded the ensuing kickoff on one hop, raced 83 yards through a gaping hole on the right side for a Friona touchdown.
• After a relatively mundane second quarter, Farwell started the second half with a two-play, 63-yard drive, capped by Mitchell’s 47-yard rumble down the right sideline that gave Farwell the lead for good.
• But three plays later, Fairweather and Willy Castillo (three catches, 134 yards) hooked up for a 55-yard gain. But Farwell’s defense stiffened and a bobbled snap cost Antonio Monreal a shot to kick his second field goal of the game.
“We knew we had to stop the run and we did a good job of that,” Farwell coach Jacob Thompson said. “Other than two or three big plays, they didn’t have a whole lot of success on offense.”
Backed into its own end most of the second and third quarter, Farwell took advantage of a favorable wind in the final 12 minutes.
Taking over at the Friona 35 midway through the fourth quarter after a short punt, the Steers speed helped gain 35 yards in three plays, with junior Matthew Edwards scampering nine yards around the right side to put Farwell up 21-10. The score was set up by a 26-yard pass from Tabb to junior tight end Clint Knight.
It was a different story in the second and third quarters when Farwell was bucking the wind. The Chieftains started five drives inside Farwell territory with only Monreal’s 28-yard field goal in the second quarter to show for it.
Under constant pressure led by senior nose guard Logan Clemmer, Fairweather managed to complete just 7 of 27 passes and was intercepted twice. The Chieftains (0-3) were forced to throw because the Steers held them to 58 yards on the ground.
“I think he was feeling the pressure a little bit,” said Clemmer, who used his quickness to shoot a gap between center and guard and twice tackle Fairweather before he could pull away from the center. “Once we started to hit him a few times I think he started looking around a little bit.”
The gritty defensive effort kept the Steers unbeaten heading into this week’s matchup with highly ranked Morton.