An 0-1 start was inevitable, but first-year Arlington head football coach Colter Mattson led a spirited huddle with 35 seconds left Friday at West Point-Beemer High School.
“You have battled tonight,” he projected, repeating himself. “You have battled tonight.”
The Eagles fell behind the Cadets 24-0 during the first quarter, surrendering three touchdown plays longer than 47 yards, but won the following three periods 22-13.
“Holy smokes. You can't ask for more grit, more effort, more fight out of a group of kids,” Mattson said after the 37-22 season-opening loss. “We could have folded in that first quarter.”
The stubbornness to not go away, he said, showed AHS' desire to be great.
West Point's Edgar Rodriguez scored on an 80-yard run on Friday's opening play from scrimmage. A 5-yard touchdown run by Alejandro Edeza followed before he, too, ripped off an 80-yarder just minutes later.
Finally, a 47-yard touchdown pass from Cadets QB Jesus Barragan to Keegan Doggett pushed the home team's lead to 24-0 through less than a quarter of football.
“Once we settled in, we played a littler better defense,” Mattson said.
While the Eagles return experience in their skill positions, the offensive and defensive lines are relatively new to varsity football. That, the coach believes, contributed to his team's slow start.
“I think we just had to get those nerves out of us,” he said.
Once Arlington did, the passing game started to click. Senior quarterback Josh Miller started off the second quarter with a pair of big runs, but finished the Eagles' first touchdown drive of 2020 with a 19-yard pass to Nick Smith in the north endzone.
Five minutes of game time later, Miller connected with Isaac Foust on a 43-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass down the sideline. The score — plus two-point conversion points earned by Jesse Thompson and Logan Kaup — cut West Point's seemingly insurmountable lead to just 24-16.
“We just have to find a way to get people involved,” Mattson said of AHS' offensive strategy. “We really have to now get more of our running game involved with it. We can't be a one-dimensional football team.”
Though the Eagles applied pressure to the Cadets, coach Troy Schlueter's team was able to respond. It went ahead 30-16 before halftime and wound up with a 15-point victory despite Miller's 1-yard touchdown sneak at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
In defeat, Arlington pass-catchers Thompson, Smith and Dustin Kirk played a big part in their team's overall effort, but so did relative varsity newcomers Cade Podany and Josiah Myer. Both linemen were named as standouts by Mattson during his postgame interview.
While those players were new to the field, their coach was new to his head coaching position. Mattson said game preparation outside of the Xs and Os was the most taxing aspect, but he also took in a lot during the first football action of the season.
“There were things that I learned tonight,” he said. “A lot of learning. A lot of stuff during the game that I haven't had to think about.”
Mattson was happy to experience it, even in defeat. Like his team, he used the opener as a chance to get a feel for things, battle and grow.