By Jim Irish
Photos by Jim Irish
Bastrop offensive coordinator Aaron Cupp gambled on the first series of the game, and it paid huge dividends.
On fourth down at the Bastrop 33, freshman quarterback Weston Nielsen staggered the count. Kerrville defenders appeared to freeze after the snap. Nielsen then threw long to wide receiver Keyshon Moore, who had sprinted past the cornerback down the right sideline.
Moore snagged it over his shoulder, skipped out of a tackle, and reached the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.
"... We're capable of playing with anybody on any night. And tonight we played our best football game of the season."
-- Bastrop head coach Jake Griedl
That was the jolt the Bears (4-2, 1-1) needed to grab the momentum out of the gate in a 41-22 District 13-5A Division II victory Friday at Memorial Stadium.
“We were ready,” Bastrop head coach Jake Griedl said. “Our team showed greatness this week, which is exactly what we preached and how they practiced.
“We’re capable of playing with anybody on any night. And tonight we played our best football game of the season.”
Kerrville (5-1, 1-1) had entered undefeated and had knocked off defending district champion Liberty Hill the previous week.
"They outplayed us. They deserve the win. We got our butt kicked tonight."
-- Kerrville head coach David Jones
The Antlers may have relaxed and not anticipated a tough game against Bastrop. Kerrville head coach David Jones spit nails after the contest. He refused to call it an upset.
“They outplayed us,” he railed. “They deserve the win. We got our butt kicked tonight.”
Moore, a diminutive 5-foot-8, 152-pound junior, has hot feet and dances around defenders.
He had a career-high eight receptions for 189 and three touchdowns.
Moore blew by Kerrville defender Aidan Hernandez for his second touchdown of 49 yards at the 2:10 mark of the second quarter.
In the third quarter, Moore spun into the end zone after the catch for a 12-yard touchdown.
Bastrop wide receiver Jaelyn Gratten, a taller version of Moore at 6-2 but equally quick, caught touchdown passes of 21 and nine yards from Nielsen. On the second touchdown catch by Gratten, Nielsen rolled left and threw back right.
“(Moore and Gratten) are great players. Absolutely,” Jones said. “They’re difference makers, and they were tonight.”
Jones was annoyed that Moore’s first two touchdowns were both on fourth downs. But he was unhappy about other aspects of the performance as well.
“Executing, stupid decisions on my part, poor tackling, poor blocking,” he said. “It was a poor excuse of a football game. I’ll take the blame. We weren’t ready to play a game.”
Bastrop turned to junior running back Ladanian Merino after gaining a comfortable lead late in the second half. Merino, a junior, scored on a five-yard run. Earlier in the series, he bolted for a 54-yard run, fumbled but scooped up the ball. He finished with a season-high 168 yards on 23 carries.
“At the end, (Merino) did a really good job and took us home there when we needed it,” Griedl said.
Bastrop suffered no turnovers.
“(The offensive and defensive line played great,” Griedl said. “I thought the secondary played well for the most part. The special teams were so much cleaner than last week.”
Because of their quickness, Moore and Gratten played a couple of series on third down.
“We’ve got to be careful with the reps they’re taking so that they’re fresh on both sides,” Griedl said.
Although former starting quarterback Braden Tuck has returned to action, Nielsen has earned the starting position. He completed 13-of-24 passes for 284 yards and five touchdowns.
“That’s how he practices: calm, cool, collected,” Griedl said about 6-2, 170-pound Nielsen. “He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
"He's got a great future ahead of him."
-- Griedl speaking about freshman quarterback Weston Nielsen
Quintaelyn Joyner, Bastrop’s initial starting quarterback, was injured in the second game of the season and will not return, Griedl said.
Kerrville relied almost exclusively on the pass. Quarterbacks Julian Rhodes and Jaxon Kincaid combined to complete 25-of-53 passes for 284 yards. The Antlers rushed for a total of 65 yards on 22 carries.
Bastrop clashes with crosstown rival Cedar Creek (0-6, 0-2) at Memorial Stadium on Friday. The Eagles are in the throes of a 21-game losing skid.
Jim Irish is a freelance writer in Bastrop, Texas