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Game of the Week - Mustangs have battled against tough schedule

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Sylvan-Lucas High School football team has had some positives in each game during a first-month slate that produced a 0-4 record against opponents that are a combined 15-1.

The Mustangs have played the No. 2-hardest strength of schedule in Eight-Man Division II, according to preppowerindex.com.

Last week, Sylvan-Lucas didn't have its fullback or tailback because of injuries suffered in a Week 3 loss to Atwood.

On Friday, the Mustangs start district play when they play host to Victoria, 4-0 and ranked No. 4 in Eight-Man Division II in the statewide media poll. Coach Ben Labertew expects to have his fullback return, but doesn't think his tailback will play.

Sylvan-Lucas had 12 healthy bodies last week and should have 13-14 players this week.

"You can't get through that tough stretch without getting some dings," Labertew said. "We are just banged up."

Last season, the Mustangs went 4-5 with a 1-3 start that included two losses by a combined 10 points. Against the same schedule this year, the opponents have improved.

In Week 1, Sylvan-Lucas lost to Natoma 17-12 on the game's final play. The Mustangs turned the ball over six times and had three interceptions that hit them in the hands.

"Granted, I think Natoma has improved from last year," Labertew said. "We didn't play real well. I didn't think we were physical. The next few weeks, I thought we were fairly physical. We have got to get smarter, that's all there is to it. Being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there - knowing your responsibilities."

Sylvan-Lucas returned six offensive and four defensive starters, but has had trouble replacing some seniors who were in key leadership roles last season.

"Kids have had to step up into those roles," Labertew said.

In Week 2, Sylvan-Lucas lost to Lincoln 38-28. Lincoln ran 57 plays and averaged 5.2 yards per play, including 4.8 yards per rush. For the season, the 3-1 Leopards have averaged 6.2 yards per rush.

"I thought we played better," Labertew said. "Still had some breakdowns that allowed them to get some touchdowns to kind of get ahead of us. All in all, I thought we played a little bit smarter football. I thought we worked harder. I thought we were a lot more physical."

In Week 3, the Mustangs lost 68-22 to Atwood, ranked No. 5 in Eight-Man Division I. Labertew said the Mustangs had a "ton of offense," but a big chunk of it was between the five-yard line. Sylvan-Lucas was down 14-8 and had the ball first and goal at the one-foot line and then had a penalty and then two negative plays and couldn't score.

Sylvan-Lucas is the only team to score against the Buffs, the classification's No. 1-ranked defense.

"They are battle-tested," Victoria coach Doug Oberle said. "They have been in ball games. In every one of those games, they have been able to move the ball down the field. They have got some playmakers. That's a very tradition-rich program. They are not accustomed to being 0-4."

Last week, Sylvan-Lucas lost to Solomon, a senior-laden group ranked No. 3 in Eight-Man Division I. The Mustangs lost 72-20 against a Gorilla team that scored all their points in the first two quarters.

"I hate to guess what their line averages," Labertew said. "They just outgunned us at every spot."