By Lance Field
Special to the Daily
When the 2009 football schedule came out, Ola head coach John Kovzel more than likely circled Friday night's game.
The Mustangs were slated to take on Jonesboro in their 2009 Homecoming game. Kovzel left his coaching job at Jonesboro after 11 years to help establish the fledgling school's athletic program.
Kovzel added, "One of the goals we set for ourselves this year was to win our Homecoming game."
If successful, it would be against his former school which would make it all the sweeter.
The Ola head coach watched his team race to an early lead, then overcome several turnovers to outlast the Cardinals in a thrilling 37-34 victory.
The Mustangs jumped to an early 16-0 lead thanks in part to a solid running attack.
Running back Ryan Arnold scored the first touchdown on an option play and fellow back Jamaal Edwards followed that up with a touchdown run of his own.
Ola then showed its aggressiveness going for, and converting the 2-point conversion after each score.
What had the makings of a rout changed quickly when Arnold fumbled a hand off at the Ola 19.
Jonesboro quarterback Eric Holden and the Cardinal offense quickly converted the turnover into six points when Holden took it the final yard to paydirt.
The 2-point conversion failed, but suddenly it was a ball game.
On their next possession, the Mustangs once again turned the ball over and once again Jonesboro capitalized.
Antonio Allen scored the second Cardinal touchdown with a 1-yard plunge. Holden then converted the 2-point conversion to pull the visitors to within two at 16-14.
Arnold would atone for his earlier miscue, when he returned the ensuing kick all the way into Jonesboro territory just beyond midfield.
Ola quarterback Darryl Dickey directed a nine-play drive that culminated with Arnold's second touchdown on the evening.
The score sent the Mustangs to the locker room with a 23-14 halftime lead.
The Cardinals needed just two plays on the first possession of the second half to pull within one. Running back Ryan Brown sliced through the Mustang defense en route to a 57-yard scoring run. Holden again converted the two-point conversion and the huge crowd was on the edge of their seats.
Edwards brought the Ola faithful to their feet when he scored his second touchdown of the night. His 3-yard plunge put the home team up 30-22.
After Jonesboro again cut the lead to two points, Ola once again answered when it mattered most. Dickey engineered a 65-yard drive that saw Arnold notch his third touchdown of the evening.
With a nine-point lead and less than eight minutes on the clock, Ola looked poised to seal the victory. When the Mustang defense forced a three and out it looked like the victory was well in hand.
That was before the Jonesboro punt grazed the foot of Vinni Monti at the Ola 23-yard line. The Cardinal special teams unit alertly fell on the ball to force the third Ola turnover of the night.
Ola's Zack Bull celebrated his selection as Homecoming King by sacking Holden and forcing the Jonesboro offense into a third-and-14 situation.
Holden then found receiver Jonathan Smith behind the Ola defense.
The 24-yard touchdown strike electrified the Jonesboro crowd as the lead was narrowed to three.
With everyone in the stadium knowing Ola would try to run out the clock, the senior- laden offensive line opened hole after hole for both Arnold and Edwards.
Three successive first downs allowed the Mustangs to run out the clock.
Afterwards, Kovzel was quick to praise his offensive line.
"I'd like to take my hat off to my offensive line. Dylan Leonard, Gavin Ogle, Dylan Thompson, Cameron Winters, Austin Bobo and Tim Feldman have been with me for three years now and they have worked really hard. That work is starting to pay off for us in their senior season."