In one of the most heated, emotionally charged district openers in the last several years, the Bulldogs failed to overcome a late touchdown and fell to the Fredericksburg Billies by a score of 21-14.
The loss was a hard one for the Bulldogs to digest following two long weeks of preparation and a hard fought game.
“It was a tough loss,” senior quarterback Joe Rodriguez said. “We felt like we should have won that game. However, we can’t live in the past. This week we are focusing on executing in all three phases of the game, and bouncing back with a win.”
The game started off rough for Bandera, as the Billies recovered an onside kick to open the game. Fredericksburg scored in less than three minutes on the ensuing drive, and recovered a Bulldog fumble on the kickoff to grab ahold of the momentum early in the game.
“We know we’ve got to get off to a better start,” senior Averie Mansfield said. “We can’t expect to win games when we give away two possessions that early.”
Despite the slow start, Bandera was able to buckle down following the two early mistakes, and came up with a big defensive stop to keep the game under control.
Rodriguez then connected with Mansfield on a 77-yard touchdown pass that changed the pace of the game, and ignited the Bulldog faithful in the stands.
“Bouncing back from the two early turnovers with a long touchdown was big for our offense,” junior receiver Tryston Butler said. “It was important for us to tie the game up early.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs struggled throughout the game to slow down the rushing attack of the Billies led by junior quarterback Kyle Reeh. Although the Bandera secondary shut down the passing attack, Reeh and senior Bryce Johnston both scored on the ground in the first half to give the Billies a 14-6 lead that looked like it would hold until halftime.
However, Rodriguez and senior Noah Nelson connected on a 70-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter that tied the game at 14.
“We went into halftime knowing that we were in good position to pull out a win,” Nelson said.
The game remained deadlocked for much of the second half, but extracurricular activity began to heat up between the two rivals. After an altercation that resulted in senior Alex Willoughby-Gonzales losing his helmet, Willoughby-Gonzales was ejected from the game on a controversial call.
“The ejection certainly increased the intensity of the game,” senior Landon Ventura said. “We wanted to win the game for Alex.”
Ventura tried to rejuvenate the Bulldogs following the ejection with a big hit on Reeh for a 5-yard loss, but the Fredericksburg offense continued to methodically move the ball down the field.
Reeh scored the go-ahead touchdown only six plays later, and that ended up being enough to secure the victory for the Billies, as the Bulldogs failed to move the ball into the end zone in the second half.
“We have to do a better job of executing in the second half,” senior receiver/corner Calvin Bankston said. “We had a few chances to score, but we just couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone.”
Although the Bulldogs fell short in the second half, Rodriguez had his best outing so far this season, throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Bandera will certainly look to build on his performance through the air against Canyon Lake this week, as Rodriguez is currently second in the district standings for passing yardage.
The matchup with Canyon Lake is undoubtedly the most important game thus far for the Bulldogs, as a win will put Bandera in prime position to grab a playoff spot before the district season concludes. Although the loss to the Billies was a heartbreaker, the Bulldogs are motivated for the chance to bounce back with a win this week.
“This is a huge game for Bulldog Nation,” senior lineman Sterling Gardner said. “We’ve worked tirelessly to form a game plan that gives us a great chance to pick up an important win.”