Opening the season against the defending Class 2A Division II state finalist, and now sixth-ranked Cisco Loboes, would have been a daunting task for any squad, especially one looking to rebound from a 2-8 campaign the season prior.
†† †Now head coach Brad Bowden and the Early Longhorns will attempt to put last week's 54-7 setback behind them as they host the San Saba Armadillos in Friday's 7:30 p.m. home opener at Longhorn Stadium.
†† †San Saba kicked off its season with a 24-6 home victory over the Tolar Rattlers in which the Armadillos scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to add to their four-point halftime cushion.
†† †Meanwhile, the Longhorns finished with 189 yards of total offense, while allowing 445 against Cisco. Early trailed 20-0 after one quarter and faced a 33-point deficit at halftime.
†† †"We didnít play well," Bowden said. "The Cisco game was a bad night for us but if we learn from it, it will be a game that will make us better. Our tackling and blocking was poor, granted Cisco is a tough team, but we didnít play aggressive football. We stressed that throughout two-a-days and in the scrimmages. We felt like we had made progress but it certainly didnít show against Cisco."
†† †The Longhorns mustered just 13 rushing yards on 24 carries with no sacks attributing to negative yardage. Chris Moreno finished with 14 yards, Jake Fisher added six yards and a touchdown, Cameron Denison rushed for five yards and Brandon Brownlee finished with two yards.
†† †Through the air, Denison connected on 17 of 30 passes for 176 yards, but was intercepted once, which turned into a 92-yard pick 6 by Cisco's Colten Kent. Austin Isom caught four passes for 81 yards for Early, while Rowdy Johnson added four catches for 29 yards. Chase Riker chipped in three catches for 15 yards, Colin Walker grabbed two receptions for 19 yards and Fisher caught two passes totaling eight yards. Brownlee also finished with a 19-yard catch, while Ricky Corona caught a 5-yard pass.
†† †"Our run game was completely shut down," Bowden said. "Our passing game has improved this year but we canít afford to be one dimensional one way or the other. We have to be able to run the ball in order to be successful."
†† †On the defensive side of the ball, of the 445 yards yielded by the Longhorns, 334 came on the ground on 29 carries ó an average of 11.4 yards per rush. Mason Reed sparked the Loboes' rushing attack with 148 yards on just five carries ó all touchdowns. Junior Sanchez led Early with six tackles, while Cody Morrison added five and Fisher finished with four.
†† †"We know we have to block and tackle better and we have to get in better shape," Bowden said. "Right now, all three of those areas are hurting us on Friday night and those are an indication that we arenít practicing well enough."
†† †In San Saba's victory last week, the Armadillos rushed for 249 of their 250 total yards, led by 76 yards from Sean Argote, who scored on a 50-yard run in the first period. Kolton Ellis chipped in a 49-yard touchdown carry in the fourth period.
†† †The Armadillos' special teams also played a critical role in the win as Kelan Verette returned a punt 43 yards for a touchdown and Rodney Ortiz converted a 27-yard field goal.
†† †Defensively, San Saba allowed 216 yards, with 132 yards coming on the ground, and forced three turnovers, including two interceptions.
†† †"San Saba has a really good team," Bowden said. "They have some size on their lines, good skill kids behind them and they are executing their schemes well."
†† †The Longhorns are still at full strength health-wise heading into Friday's home opener, according to Bowden, who is anticipating a better performance.
†† †"Itís always nice to play at home, but coming off a bad loss isnít easy," Bowden said. "Neither of those factors should play into this game at all. We want to win because thatís what we are working for. If we were playing at Rogan Field, coming off a win against Cisco, it wouldnít change what we want to do. Last week doesnít add or subtract from the pressure of competition. If youíre a competitor, you can play in the Walmart parking lot on a Tuesday morning and it wouldnít matter one bit, you would still want to win.
†† †"That sort of pressure is a good thing, itís one of the reasons to invest so much in high school football. Those are the things that turn boys into men. Our kids have to prove that circumstances donít negatively influence our mentality. We have to prove that we are ready to play every down, every game, regardless. Weíve done this at times, but until youíre doing it all the time, it isnít enough."
†† †In terms of what it will take for the Longhorns to emerge from Friday's contest with a 1-1 record, Bowden pointed to better execution of the fundamentals, as well as a spirited effort throughout the contest.
††† †"Obviously, we have to block and tackle better than we did last week," Bowden said. "We just need to compete at our highest level. Our execution wonít be perfect at this point but the competitiveness should be. It wasnít last week. If we are going to be a playoff team, that is an absolute that canít vary. We will see where we are Friday night."††