MABTON - "Who came up with that schedule?" Mabton football coach John Durham laughed during a recent practice as he took a look at his team's scheduled season opener against the Pasco JV team.
Pasco's varsity is top-ranked among the state's 4A football teams, so Mabton looked to have its hands full against the Bulldogs JV team.
But the Vikings gave as good as they got before falling 12-6 in double overtime in last Friday's season opener at home.
Both teams struggled with the first game jitters in the opening half.
The Mabton running game, paced by Eli Perez and Moises Gutierrez, found room to rip off occasional runs of five or 10 yards at a clip, but couldn't sustain a drive.
The Pasco JV team found it equally tough going in the first half, as the Bulldog passing attack misfired due to penalties and dropped passes..
The first half ended with the score knotted at 0-0.
Durham attributed the scoreless first half to a combination of tough defenses, along with both the Pasco and Mabton offenses still learning their paces.
"It's a new season for us," he said. "It took us a half to get some things worked out for our offensive line."
Mabton got it "worked out", all right, as Perez found running room to bull over defenders as the third quarter opened.
The Vikings moved down inside the Pasco 25-yard line before the drive stalled and Mabton had to turn the ball over on downs.
The change in momentum would ultimately change the score as, under the leadership of quarterback Carlin Andrew, the Pasco JV squad put together an eight-minute, 11-play drive to go up 6-0 as the third quarter clock expired.
Key to the drive was an Andrew pass completion on third-and-12 from the Mabton-20 that set up first and goal at the Viking three-yard line.
Jeff Dent ran it in one play later for the Bulldogs.
Things seemed on the verge of going from bad to worse for Mabton, as a recovered fumble on the ensuing kick-off set the Vikes back on their own six-yard line.
But the Vikings were just getting warmed up, as they reeled off an 88-yard drive to use up much of the fourth quarter clock.
Perez and Gutierrez, who combined for more than 230 yards rushing, went to work again. Mabton quarterback Luis Quintero also got in on the act, scrambling for yardage to get the Vikes near mid-field.
With Mabton facing third-and-one on its own 47-yard line, Perez put the Vikings on his back and rumbled 33 yards to the Pasco-20.
Gutierrez moved the ball down to the six two plays later to set Mabton up with a first-and-goal.
Unfortunately, the Vikings, who solely relied on the ground for their yardage, were turned away again.
With just under four minutes left in the contest, most fans assumed the Bulldogs would grind it out, milk the clock.
They were wrong.
With Pasco at its own 15-yard line, Viking defenders broke through the line and sent Andrew scrambling. As the quarterback attempted a move to elude tacklers he dropped the football onto the turf. Mabton pounced on it like a golden egg and the game was still on.
"The football gods were smiling on us," Durham said of his team's timely fumble recovery.
This time there would be no stopping Mabton and two plays later Gutierrez found pay dirt with a game tying score.
Like Pasco before it, Mabton missed the point after kick attempt to leave the score tied at 6-6.
The game remained knotted, forcing a Kansas City overtime in which both teams get a shot at driving the ball in from the opponent's 25-yard line.
Pasco went first and was turned away when Eric Tellez hauled down an interception at the goal line.
Mabton went three-and-out to close out the first overtime. The Vikes took the ball first in the second overtime, reaching the first down marker at the 15, but unable to push the ball any further.
The Bulldogs found the game winner on their next drive, as Andrew lofted a touchdown pass on fourth-and-four from the nine-yard line.
For the game, Perez ran for 157 yards on 31 carries, and Gutierrez rang up 78 yards rushing on 22 carries, including a touchdown.
"This is a group of kids that will fight you to the end," Durham said of his team following the tough loss. "There's no quit in them."
He also gave credit to the Pasco JV defense, which stymied Mabton in the two overtimes.
Though a loss is never easy, this one was tempered by the fact it was not a league contest.
It was also a learning experience.
"They are a passing oriented team," Durham said of Pasco. "That's something we didn't see a lot of in the past (while playing in the B ranks) and it's something we will see in 1A football."
Mabton's first go-round with a 1A foe, though non-league, will be at Warden this coming Friday.