EARLY — The Early Longhorns didn’t walk away from their home opener with their first victory of the season, but they did show signs of potentially arriving in the win column soon.
On Friday, Early (0-2) will take its third stab at a victory when it hosts the winless Coleman Bluecats (0-2) at 7:30 p.m. at Longhorn Stadium.
The Longhorns rallied from a 14-point deficit last week to draw even with San Saba late in the third period, but the Armadillos withstood the charge for a 20-17 victory. Still, Early head coach Brad Bowden was pleased with the fight the Longhorns showed over the final two quarters.
“It was good to see our kids play better in the second half and show some heart,” Bowden said. “However, we have to play like that for an entire game. We allowed opportunities to pass us by in the first half and we didn’t have the same confidence or urgency that we did in the second half.”
The first half hasn’t been kind to the Longhorns thus far as through two games Early has been outscored by its opponents 50-3. Playing all four quarters the way the Longhorns did the final two last week will be among the keys to victory Friday night, according to Bowden.
“We just need to play four quarters of sound football, four quarters with a sense of urgency,” Bowden said. “We don’t need to press or try to play over our heads, just be steady and consistent play after play.
“Moving forward, we need continued improvement with blocking and tackling, and we need to clean up our kicking game. We have had some big plays in the kicking game but we’ve also given up some big plays, so we have to focus on winning the kicking game. However, as I already mentioned, our biggest priority is putting four good quarters together.”
Heading into the Coleman contest, the Longhorns are averaging 12 points and 268 yards — 171 passing and 97 rushing — per contest.
Cameron Denison has completed 31 of 57 pass attempts for 342 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Leading receivers for the Longhorns include Austin Isom (8-123), Chase Riker (8-81, TD), Colin Walker (4-55), Rowdy Johnson (4-29), Jake Fisher (3-11), Brandon Brownlee (2-28), Kellan Jackson (1-10) and Ricky Corona (1-5).
On the ground, Fisher leads the charge with 156 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, while Denison has chipped in 53 yards and a touchdown on 20 rushes.
“Offensively, we’ve shown flashes but we have been inconsistent,” Bowden said. “We are getting better, but we aren’t there yet.
“We looked comfortable in our no-huddle offense and we had success with the run and the pass. Jake did a good job running the ball for us, Cameron is getting better with every snap and the O-line showed improvement. Our receivers played well, we need to get more of them in the rotation, but as a group they have steadily improved. We lost the field position battle in the fourth quarter and that hurts any offense. That is something our kids have to get a better understanding of, but overall there were a lot of positive signs last Friday. However, the only Friday that matters now is the next one.”
Defensively, the Longhorns are surrendering 37 points and 353 yards — 272.5 rushing and 80.5 passing — per contest, though Early did hold San Saba to just three points after halftime last week.
Cody Morrison leads Early with 21 tackles followed by Junior Sanchez with 14, Fisher with 12 and Fidel Olalde with 10.
“We still had some assignment mistakes, but our kids played better,” Bowden said. “We need to start creating some turnovers and get better at secondary run support, but as a whole they looked better.”
While Early’s offense has struggled during the first half, Coleman — a 7-4 playoff team a year — has battled offensive issues throughout each of its first two games as the Bluecats have mustered just eight points.
The Bluecats are averaging 178 total yards — 128 rushing and 50 passing — per contest. Quarterback Anthony Thomas has completed 7 of 22 passes for 100 yards with a pair of interceptions, while rushing for 55 yards on 13 carries. D.J. Terrell has chipped in 121 yards and a touchdown on the ground and caught two short passes. Jaquan Hemphill has also grabbed two receptions for 55 yards, while Dalton Gentry has caught a 17-yard pass.
“Coleman looks very similar to last year,” Bowden said. “They have a lot of the same kids back and they play hard. Offensively, they will run a lot of veer at you and then try to get on the perimeter with their halfbacks or quarterback. The veer and midline has been something we have had problems defending, so we will need to be sound on our assignments and do a great job tackling.”
Defensively, the Bluecats have yielded 31 points and 348.5 yards per game, with 330 yards coming on the ground.
“Defensively, Coleman has a good group, led by last year’s district defensive MVP (Shelton Zarate) at middle linebacker,” Bowden said. “We just need to execute our offense and take what they are giving us. With what we do offensively, and what they’ve been doing defensively, something has to give. They like to keep their linebackers close to the box and we normally keep three or four receivers out wide, so it could be a situation of seeing who has to adjust first. We have to be able to count on multiple players contributing so we can spread their defense out some. If not, they will have the advantage and we will be playing to their strengths.”