Sometimes, stingy can be a positive. Case in point, the Fairfield Mules’ defense. For the third straight week to open the season, Justin Townsend’s Mules did not allow a point and the Mule Train kept rolling with a 36-0 road win in Chester. Fairfield moved to 3-0 with the win.
And while the stinginess is a continuation of a trend this year, they can add greediness to the repertoire as well, as the defense got in on the scoring act with two defensive touchdowns and a safety on the night.
That helped supplement what is a pedestrian offering for this year’s Mules offense, as they finished with just 234 yards of total offense, down from the 385 they averaged in the first two games.
The Mules got off to their customary slow start after the long bus ride to Chester, playing to a scoreless first quarter.
“We had to work tonight, but a lot of that was because of our offense and our special teams. We put our defense in some bad spots and they just did a great job responding,” Townsend said after the victory. “The offense started out a little sluggish. Some of that was the scheme. We prepared all week for a 5-3, then they came out in a 6-2. We had to make some adjustments.”
Fairfield also had to work around a less-than-ideal practice week. Tuesday’s practice was cut short due to lightning. Wednesday, their full pad day, the humidity reached 104 degrees.
“It was hard to be locked in. We had some adversity early, but our kids responded. I did not hear any arguing or panic. We just kept grinding, the game finally broke for us and our playmakers made some plays,” Townsend said.
Do The Safety Dance
On the first play of the second quarter, the defense led to the first points of the game, backing up the Yellow Jackets deep in their own territory and forcing a punt. The snap sailed over the punter’s head and out of the end zone for a safety.
“It took us a little bit to get going, especially offensively, but I was really proud of our kids. You hope you will come out, play perfect and everything goes as planned. But when you play a decent team, that does not always work,” Townsend admitted.
That was the catalyst to get the Mules moving. They took the following kick and needed just four plays for the first touchdown, a two-yard score by senior wing back Wyatt Gilbert.
“Going up 10-0, I think our kids took a deep breath then, like they had been holding it until that point. We relaxed, and started playing,” Townsend said.
Fairfield turned it over on an interception on their next drive, but the defense was stalwart and forced a turnover on downs. The Mules then marched 69 yards in eight plays, capped off once again by Gilbert scoring, from eight yards out for an 18-0 lead in the final minute of the half.
They weren’t done with the half, however. Chester moved the ball in their spread attack and got all the way to Fairfield’s 17 with 22 seconds left. Chester quarterback Dylan Kelkhoff tried to hit favorite target Ian Reith, but instead found Mule safety Cade Carter, at the 10 for an interception. Carter broke several as he returned it to the midfield, then lateraled to Gilbert, who took it the rest of the way as the clock ran for a pitch-six, and a 24-0 halftime lead. Carter admitted after the game he was looking for Gilbert the whole way.
“That was a huge play right before the half. That was kind of the nail in the coffin, especially with the way our defense was playing. We had a lot of guys downfield blocking, and just for Cade to have the awareness to get the ball to Gilbert to take it the rest of the way was pretty awesome. Those kids have been playing together since first grade,” Townsend said. “That is just freelancing and making a play.”
Fairfield added another score late in the third, on a one-yard plunge from fullback Kaleb Wells.
The defense got their second touchdown early in the fourth quarter, when Ethan Bert took a shot from corner Colin Massie, fumbled, and defensive end Luke Dagg got a scoop and score from 22 yards out.
“Coach (Donnie) Lyons has implemented the turnover pie. We got to give out a couple of them last week, but I’m going to have to talk to Coach. When you score a touchdown I would think you get a whole pie. We have to up the game a little bit when you score touchdowns,” Townsend explained.
That would be the final score of the game, with the subs playing out the remaining minutes.
Fairfield outgained Chester, 234-160, with the Yellowjackets doing self-inflected damage as well with 98 penalty yards.
Gilbert finished with 73 rushing yards. He had three scores total, including the pitch six. Wells finished with 63 rushing yards and Carter had 36, all averaging more than five yards a carry.
Junior quarterback Landon Zurliene was 2-for-5 with 29 yards and an interception through the air.
Kelkhoff threw for 67 yards on 19 attempts, while Aiden Jany led the Jackets in rushing with 34 on four carries in the second half, mostly against the subs.
Secondary Strong Again
The secondary continued to play great for the Mules. They opened the season holding Sesser without a completion in 12 attempts. On the year, opponents are just 14-of-52 for 122 yards, an average of just 2.3 yards per attempt.
The Mules returned two starters in the secondary, Carter and Gilbert, but the new guys have stepped up.
“Our secondary is playing great right now. Cayden (Taylor) played great. They were going right at Colin (Massie) with a 6-6 kid and Colin held his own. He has continued to excel,” Townsend said. “Camden (Robbins) has been playing in our Longhorn defense, when it is second and long, third and long. He was out there a lot tonight. We had them in second and long most of the night, because our kids played well up front.”
Wells led the Mules in tackles with seven, all solos, while Blake Pruitt had four. Konnor Dagg had the Mules’ lone sack. They did have 10 tackles for loss, however.
Johnston City 14, Hamilton Co. 0
Sesser-Valier 32, Edwards Co. 21
Carmi 20, CZR 14
Eldorado 44, Vienna 8
Fairfield will return home in week four to host Christopher-Zeigler-Royalton after two straight road games. Chester is at Hamilton County next.
“CZR is much improved. They had a quarterback move in from Benton. That allowed them to move their other quarterback to an athlete position and move him around. They will be a team that is bigger than us up front. We will have to be ready to roll,” Townsend forecasted.
Coming into the year, Chester and Sesser were expected to be two of the top obstacles in the Mules’ title defense bid. They have already dispatched both of them. Three weeks into the season is a time to reflect on those expectations and look ahead as well.
“Chester had a lot of nice weapons. I think they will be close—five, six wins—they are just young right now. A lot of their key guys are sophomores, so they will only get better each week,” Townsend said. “I think there is a good chance Eldorado is going to be 8-0 at the end of the year. I think Edwards County is much better than people thought they would be. Their skill guys were really good and can match up well there. I think Chester still has a shot at five wins and I think Sesser still gets to five.”