If the Riverside-based, semipro Chicago Mustangs defend their Southern Conference championship in the Midstates Football League, it certainly won’t be easy. The Mustangs discovered that immediate reality during a 16-14 loss to the highly-regarded Roscoe Rush on Saturday at Riverside-Brookfield High School.

The season opener also marked Michael Almodovar’s debut as the Mustangs’ head coach. Previously, he served as the team’s defensive coordinator.

“We were expecting a great challenge [against the Rush] and we got what we expected,” Mustangs quarterback Derrick McClain said. “We have a lot of new players so we just need a little more time to jell as a team. Roscoe is labeled as a good program, but I feel like we’re better; hopefully, we will see them again. We went to the [MSFL] championship game for a reason last season.”

Since rejoining the MSFL in 2010, the Rush have compiled a glittering 46-12 overall record highlighted by two league championships and a pair of AA National Championship semi-pro football runner-up finishes.

Throw in the four-time MSFL champion Chicago Thunder, one of the Chicagoland area’s truly great semipro football organization’s, along with other solid Southern Conference squads like the Springfield Foxes and the Lincoln-Way Patriots, and it’s apparent the Southern Conference is stacked. While the road to the title still runs through Riverside, the Mustangs conceivably could have their hands full every week this season.

During Saturday’s home opener before a large and supportive crowd, the Mustangs fell behind 6-0 when Roscoe quarterback Brad Dement (10-for-27, 201 yards, 2 TDs) connected with wide receiver Justin Opengo on a 62-yard touchdown pass at the 11:12 mark of the first quarter. Chicago blocked the extra point attempt.

The Mustangs (0-1) responded on their opening offense possession with a long drive that ultimately stalled on the Rush 12-yard line. Chicago failed to convert a fourth-down passing attempt from McClain to tight end Chris Walter to end the possession.

The Rush extended their lead to 9-0 on a 25-yard field goal by Dan Winsey, which capped off a 16-play, 90-yard drive that consumed eight minutes and 31 seconds off the clock.

The Mustangs scored their first points of the season via an unconventional but welcomed manner when Winsey mishandled a high snap on a punt attempt which sailed into the end zone for a safety to draw Chicago within 9-2.

In a remarkable closing to a hard-hitting first half of action, the teams combined for 13 points in the final four seconds to set the halftime score at 16-8 in Roscoe’s favor. Chicago running back Bryant Pascascio (17 carries, game-high 51 yards) scored on a one-yard burst in the end zone behind strong blocking from his offensive line and a full-house backfield with four seconds left until the intermission. Unbelievably, Roscoe offered an answer as Dement tossed a 48-yard touchdown pass to favorite target Dan Carter down the center of the field with 0.1 seconds left.

While both teams struggled offensively in the second half, the Mustangs mustered one last push with two minutes remaining in the game. McClain threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Samford Gooden, who shed a cornerback en route to an emphatic dive to paydirt.

“I take three pictures of each play, a pre-snap, post-snap and before I break on my route read,” said Gooden, who played at the College of DuPage. “When I saw the post route was there, I just had to keep running because I know the corner was going to be aggressive and try to make a play. My responsibility is to catch the ball and get points.”

Unfortunately, Gooden’s celebration was short-lived as Rush linebacker Bryan Morehead stuffed Pascasio’s run on a two-point conversion attempt, maintaining a 16-14 advantage for Roscoe.

The Chicago defense quickly forced the Rush to punt after and a three-and-out series with 1:25 left in the game; however, a costly Mustang penalty of roughing the kicker (Winsey) gave the ball back to Roscoe. Taking full advantage of Chicago’s special teams gaffe, The Rush ran the clock out to escape Riverside with an impressive road win in an early season MSFL showdown.

McClain completed 5 of 14 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown, while the playmaking Gooden finished with three catches for 105 yards. The Mustangs’ Dave Skowronski, a former starting quarterback at RBHS, also saw time under center on Saturday but struggled completing just 1 of 6 passes for seven yards.

Will Brewer rushed nine times for 41 yards for the Rush.

Defensively, the Mustangs turned in a solid debut against an obviously talented Roscoe squad.

“It’s a rough game to start the season for both sides,” Mustangs defensive lineman Lorenzo Hood said. “I think some of our guys probably got too caught up in the rivalry. We had some brain farts on defense that really cost us. It’s not like Roscoe was running the ball down our throats or doing whatever they wanted.

“We’ll look to play better in our next game and get a win. We definitely don’t want to be 0-2 to open the season.”

Hood’s second-half sack and linebacker Kurt James’ absolutely atomic hit on Brewer served as spectacular defensive highlights for the Mustangs. DeAndre’ Mosley, Robert Riley, Jon Berry and James Biesiada, among others, contributed to the Mustangs’ swarming defensive approach.

Looking ahead to Week 2 in MSFL action, the Mustangs hit the road to take on the Springfield Foxes Saturday, July 19 at 7 p.m.

Founded in 2009 by team owner and assistant head coach Eddie Chapp, the Mustangs have already made an immediate impact on the field and within the Riverside-Brookfield community. Chapp resides in Riverside with his wife, Gina, and their three children, Madeline, Matt and Jordan.

“Our players are playing football for different reasons,” Chapp said. “Some guys never played but want to try it, others with a passion for the game want to keep playing after high school or college ball, and some view our games as an opportunity for professional scouts to see them.

“Part of our plan is also encouraging our players to give back to the community. Anyone with some talent can play football, but we want our players to help by coaching kids, advising high school athletes and just helping others in their communities. We also encourage fans to attend our games and enjoy a night of affordable football fun with family and friends.”

For more information about the Chicago Mustangs, visit chicagomustangfootball.net. The Mustangs play all their home games at Shuey Stadium on the RBHS campus.