CALIFORNIA — Eldon and California have played in many close games in recent years. With both teams entering at 1-3 and desperate to get that second one in the win column, this year's edition of the rivalry figured to be another tight contest.
The teams didn't disappoint.
In what was an old-fashioned defensive struggle that featured 12 punts and five turnovers on downs, Eldon's size, both on the line and in the backfield with Isaiah Parsons, eventually wore the Pintos down en route to a 15-8 Mustangs win.
"We let down a little bit defensively in the third quarter and let them break off a couple big plays on us and that's what hurt," California coach Marty Albertson said. "The rest of the game we played pretty well."
Despite a tough first half offensively where they went into the locker room trailing 8-0, the Mustangs were committed to running the ball in their wing-T set and it eventually paid dividends.
The second play following the break was a Parsons 46-yard run that put Eldon in the red zone. Though the Mustangs were stuffed on the goal line on that series, Parsons found the end zone on the next drive with a 23-yard run. He also punched in the ensuing 2-point conversion attempt to tie the game.
After Eldon found its footing on the ground, the pass opened up early in the fourth when quarterback Austin Kempker hit Jacob Whittle for a 53-yard touchdown that wound up being the game-winning score.
With the lead late, the Mustangs forced the Pintos to turn the ball over on downs twice in the fourth quarter, including a red zone stop from the 8-yard line with 30 second to play. Eldon junior Trenton Dillon wore the California blockers down with two fourth quarter sacks.
For the third week in a row, California's dominated defensively early on as the Pintos held Eldon to just four total yards in the first half. Eldon's six first half series were comprised of five punts and a turn over on downs.
While California's first half offense wasn't much better with five punts to start the game, the Pintos did put together a 62-yard drive late in the half that ended with a 9-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jacob Wolken.
Wolken finished with 46 yards on the ground to bring his season rushing total to 427. He also had his most prolific passing game of the season, going 15-of-30 for 138 yards. Jacob Adams was his top target with six catches for 75 yards.
The Eldon run game was all Parsons, who totaled 114 yards on 27 carries. Kempker went 2-of-5 through the air for 55 yards. Both completions were to Whittle.
Both teams are 1-2 in Tri-County Conference play. California visits Hallsville next while Eldon will head to Warsaw.