By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
A performance written off one week ago as a bad night turned into a trend for the San Marcos Rattlers Friday night, when they fumbled five times in a 48-14 loss to New Braunfels Canyon at Bobcat Stadium.
The final score, and the means towards achieving it, looked almost like a carbon copy of last week’s 49-17 loss at Steele to open the District 27-4A season. Now 0-2 in the district and 2-3 overall, the Rattlers suddenly face a steep, uphill battle to a fourth-place finish, which would be their best hope of making the playoffs.
“The kids are out there battling as hard as they can,” San Marcos coach Steve Van Nest said. “This is a time of adversity, it’s in times like this that character is revealed, and we have a lot of character on this football team. I’m going to do everything I can to keep us together and keep us pointed in the right direction.”
It’s not lack of effort so much as lack of dexterity that has done in the Rattlers the last two weeks. Putting the ball on the carpet, which is a guaranteed ticket to losing in this murderous district, seemed to always afflict the Ratters just in time to penalize them for a job well done.
The night fell apart for San Marcos during a span of roughly 30 seconds on the game clock during the middle of the contest.
The Rattlers trailed only 22-14 when they punted Canyon to the San Marcos 45 with 2:43 left in the first half. As Canyon drove towards a score that San Marcos would not be able to answer before halftime, the Rattlers appeared on the verge of a stop with 24 seconds left, when a penalty against the Cougars left them second and 14 at the 19.
But Canyon quarterback Tyler Denson, the star of the game, connected with Brandon Grudle for 10 yards to the nine, relieving some of the pressure. Next, Denson missed Chase Hoffman open in the end zone, setting up fourth and five. The Cougars lined up with two tight ends, one end split on each side and only lead runner Robert Clay set back. They gave the ball to Clay, who followed his blocking all the way to the one for a first down before being forced out of bounds. On the next play, Clay scored from a yard out with 11 seconds left, making it 29-14.
The second half kick recalled this season’s kickoff nightmares for the Rattlers. None of the Rattlers touched a kick bouncing high at the goal line. Then again, it’s a free kick. Canyon’s Thomas Spitzer landed on the kick in the end zone, giving Cougars a very sudden 35-14 lead.
“You talk about taking a sucker punch in the gut,” said a sympathetic Canyon coach Les Davis, a Texas State alumnus who says he still has a bit of the purple in him after his days in San Marcos.
The game could have ended there, but it waited a few plays, until San Marcos quarterback Aaron Canady fumbled near midfield on first down during the Rattlers’ next possession. The game proceeded to unravel from that point for San Marcos, which, starting then, totaled as many fumbles (three) as first downs (three).
“We put the ball on the ground, we have untimely penalties, we do inexplicable things,” Van Nest said. “… We’re definitely pressing. Sometimes, you try too hard. Sometimes, over-aggressiveness causes problems.”
The problems began for San Marcos early, but not until the defense stopped Canyon on fourth down at the Rattlers 22 after Canyon drove 48 yards from the opening kickoff. Instead of turning the momentum in their favor, the Rattlers fumbled on their first play from scrimmage. Canyon recovered and Clay ran six yards for the touchdown four plays later for a 7-0 lead.
Throughout the first half, the Rattlers turned up nifty moments from their Slot-T offense, which always makes them one of the most entertaining football teams to watch at any level. None surpassed Andre Ray’s 75-yard burst through left tackle for a touchdown on San Marcos’ next possession, making it 7-7.
Early in this district season, though, Canyon is showing offensive diversity it has not wielded in some years. Not only is Clay bankable for 100 rushing yards every time he plays, but Denson has added a bit of passing threat to his rushing abilities, making the Cougars quite difficult to defend.
And the Cougars can even pull off the occasional acrobatic passing play, such as Denson’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Figol, a lunging snag made over San Marcos safety Dorian Perez. The first-quarter touchdown, followed by Orlando Oliva’s two-point conversion run, gave Canyon a 15-7 lead.
The Rattlers soon began pounding back. The story of their next touchdown began when Canyon faced fourth and one at its own 34 and lined up as if to go for it, apparently hoping to draw the Rattlers offsides. Instead, officials called delay of game on the Cougars, who proceeded to hit a 15-yard punt and start San Marcos on the Canyon 44.
Ray gobbled up 38 yards of it on a diving catch on the six, snagging a pass from Canady. However, Ray left the field somewhat bent over sideways and didn’t return. Van Nest said the staff wasn’t yet sure of the injury’s extent, except that it is in the shoulder or collarbone area. With that catch and his 75-yard touchdown run alone, Ray accounted for 113 of San Marcos’ 165 yards of first half offense.
Two plays after Ray’s catch, Scooter Walker ran in the final yard for a touchdown, bringing San Marcos within 15-14 just four seconds into the second quarter. But the Rattlers wouldn’t score again.
Canyon tore swiftly down the field on its next possession, driving 72 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Among those plays were passes from Denson for 35 yards to Andrew Lehmann and 13 yards to Figol, then Denson runs for 15 and five yards, the last for the touchdown to make it 22-14.
The Rattlers didn’t make a serious bid to score for the rest of the night and finished with 267 total yards, including 212 on the ground. Meanwhile, Canyon totaled 433 yards of total offense.
Clay picked up his 100 rushing yards in 23 carries. But the senior quarterback Denson made the true difference in this one, rushing for 151 yards in 19 carries and completing eight of 20 passed for 141 yards.
“We weren’t as good at throwing the ball last year,” Davis said. “Tyler has another year of experience under his belt. It’s a fun thing if we can do it because it takes the pressure off our running game.”
Not only did the game on their field go badly for the Rattlers, but so have the results in District 26-4A. Friday night, Steele beat Clemens (45-35), Alamo Heights beat Boerne Champion (17-10) and Kerrville Tivy beat Seguin (40-17). As a result, Steele, Alamo Heights, Tivy and Canyon all are 2-0, while the Rattlers, Seguin, Champion and Clemens all are 0-2.
If one or two of Friday’s other losers could have won, then the Rattlers would be only a game out of playoff position with games upcoming against teams they would need to pass. Instead, the district has quickly separated into two divisions, with the top four teams in the driver’s seats and the other four teams on foot.
And the way this season is going, the Rattlers will need more help to stay in the playoff race next week, when they go to Tivy.