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Bulldogs maintain Highway 54 control of Hornets

With Fulton down six points and driving, Hornets senior running back Ryan Fritz broke for an apparent first down in the red zone of the rival Mexico Bulldogs in the second quarter.

What happened next? Fritz fumbled. The turnover obviously irritated Fulton head coach Pat Kelley.

But then again, that kind of play has been a kind of unbreakable routine for the Hornets this season.

"We had a mixup on second down, putting us in third-and-long and we thought we had it back on Ryan's run, but then he fumbled," Kelley said. "But I mean, that's us this year and that was a 12-point swing."

Kelley maintains that Fritz was down on the play and it very well could have been a way to salvage momentum for Fulton. The Hornets eventually went down in defeat on homecoming, dropping the annual Highway 54 Bowl to Mexico 46-20 on Friday night at Robert E. Fisher Stadium.

It's not exactly the kind of play you use to best describe your team seven games into the season, but that's the reality for Fulton (0-7, 0-6 North Central Missouri Conference).

Fritz's miscue led to Mexico driving 78 yards in two plays, highlighted by a 70-yard touchdown pass from Bulldogs junior quarterback Austin Reed to senior receiver Chaves Richardson.

Richardson, who caught six passes for 116 yards Friday night, sprinted to the end zone following a broken tackle from Fulton sophomore cornerback Randall Cole. Truth be told, the Bulldogs (4-3, 2-1) did a lot of running after contact in winning their third straight game in the series and retaining the Highway 54 road sign that goes to the winner.

"They're strong kids and we didn't tackle and wrap up real well," Kelley said. "Maybe we expected that once we hit them, they'd go down."

They didn't. In fact, it seemed as though Mexico ran stronger after the initial contact from Fulton defenders. The Hornets gave up a season-high 327 yards on the ground and could not bottle up Reed or junior running back Shia Miller.

Miller ended up with a game-high 151 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Reed chipped in 100 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns, and threw for 141 yards on 9-of-11 passing.

"Mexico, first of all, was a lot faster than we were," Kelley observed. "We didn't have an answer for (Miller), we didn't have an answer for (Reed)."

"When you can't catch a kid, it is hard, and they ran hard and ran fast."

Reed scored on runs of 28, 1 and 12 yards, and also picked off Fulton junior quarterback Jake Matthews two times. On his side of the field, Matthews continued his improved play since returning to the starting lineup from a sore back.

Despite the two interceptions, Matthews also threw his first two touchdown passes of the season and his varsity career. The first was a 40-yard scoring pass up the middle seam to senior running back Nick Christensen, less than 2 minutes into the second quarter to bring Fulton to within a touchdown.

"Last week (Matthews) played his best half in that second half, and this week he played his best game," Kelley said. "He still threw a couple of picks, but if you're going to throw the ball, that's going to happen."

Matthews' play was one of several positives Kelley pointed out in spite of his team giving up 40 points for the fifth time in seven games this season. The Hornets scored in the second half for the first time in 2010, and Matthews' 129 yards passing balanced out the Hornets' 165 yards rushing.

So if there's a silver lining to find in an 0-7 record, there's that.

"I hope it doesn't sound crazy, but I think we played our best game of the year," Kelley said. "If we played that way last week (in 17-7 loss at Kirksville) we would've won that game, but there's a couple of other games we could have said that about too.

"Unfortunately, Mexico was a tough task and they're as good as anyone we've played this year."

Chalking up one in the win column the first seven weeks would have been nice, but the Hornets now have a chance to render that moot with a strong finish in district play, starting this week at North Callaway. The Thunderbirds (4-3) manhandled Barat Academy 58-14 on Friday night.

Win three games and the Hornets could be district champions and on their way to the state playoffs.

District champion Fulton Hornets would sound infinitely better than the Fulton Hornets defined by miscues and an inability to close the deal.

"We told the kids to take a deep breath because it's a new season," Kelley said. "We're going to play Class 3 teams, which we haven't done since week two, so hopefully that makes a difference. But we're still going to have to work as hard in practice this week as we did last week."

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