EARLY — The Early Longhorns’ postseason chances rest on the outcome of Friday’s regular season finale at Longhorn Stadium.
Seeking their first playoff trip since 2008, the Longhorns (3-6, 3-2) will host the Comfort Bobcats (3-6, 3-2) in a winner-take-all battle for the third playoff seed from District 3-2A Division I.
“We are glad to be in a position where we control our own destiny,” said Early head coach Brad Bowden. “Comfort will be a tough obstacle for us but that’s the way it ought to be.”
Early opened district action with three consecutive victories, but dropped its last two contests to Bangs and Wall by a combined score of 119-7. The Longhorns’ district bye fell last week, which has given Early not only two weeks to prepare for Comfort, but two weeks to heal as well.
“Normally, I don’t like open weeks, but we have some kids that are banged up and the open week allowed them some recovery time,” Bowden said. “Plus, I felt like we had a good week of practice so I believe the open week was beneficial to us. I just want to see our kids get back up and fight through the challenge.”
Comfort has followed the same path as Early to reach this point, defeating Grape Creek, Ingram Tom Moore and Brady while dropping its two most recent games to Bangs (56-24) and Wall (54-0).
The advantage in size heading into the contest lies with Comfort, according to Bowden, and overcoming that is the Longhorns’ primary concern.
“Comfort has a lot of size and when they run right at you, it’s a difficult task to stop them,” Bowden said. “They have a lot of size on the line and big skill kids as well. Regardless of the formations they use, their strength is playing north and south. When they do that, they are pretty good at moving the ball. Defensively, we have to negate their size advantage on the line and do a great job of tackling.”
In a 61-6 win over Ingram Tom Moore that opened district play, the Bobcats finished with 513 yards of total offense as Ryan Lich ran for 151 yards and three touchdowns and caught a 25-yard scoring toss from Colton Reeh. Reeh also passed for 151 yards and three scores and rushed for 83 yards.
During Comfort’s loss to Bangs, the Bobcats finished with 319 yards, including 222 on the ground, but lost three turnovers. Lich rushed for touchdowns of 7 and 5 yards in the first half and Victor Falcon booted a 39-yard field goal, while Reeh connected with Connor Thayn on a 17-yard touchdown for the only Comfort points of the second half.
Early’s defense — led by Cody Morrison (84 tackles), Jake Fisher (66 tackles), Junior Sanchez (61 tackles), Brandon Moore (41 tackles) and Ricky Corona (40 tackles) — is allowing 35 points and 324 yards, including 232 rushing, per game.
The nod at the skill positions perhaps goes in Early’s direction, particularly based on the way the Longhorns have been able to pass the ball this season. In the loss to Bangs, Comfort surrendered 456 yards of total offense, including 286 yards through the air.
For the season, Early is generating 19 points and 240 yards — 137 passing and 103 rushing — per game, with 25 turnovers. In their most recent outing, a 77-0 loss at Wall, the Longhorns were limited to just 52 yards of total offense and turned the ball over three times.
Quarterback Cameron Denison has completed 98 of 176 passes for 1,121 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions while leading receivers include Chase Riker (23-229, 2 TDs), Austin Isom (22-382, 5 TDs), Colin Walker (20-174, 3 TDs) and Fisher (13-166, 2 TDs). On the ground, leading rushers include Fisher (623 yards, 6 TDs), Chris Moreno (185 yards, TD) and Denison (140 yards, 3 TDs).
The battle in the trenches, as well as turnovers, will likely determine whether Early will have an opportunity to shine in its biggest game in several seasons.
“Being able to control the line of scrimmage will be tough against Comfort,” Bowden said. “They have big bodies on their defense and they are a physical ball club. We have to be consistent. Whether we are running or throwing the ball, we have to do a great job blocking and securing the ball.
“We also have to play aggressively. It’s a simple matter of one team taking it away from the other team Friday night. We need to strike first and be aggressive about taking control of the game early and then maintaining a high level throughout the game. Turnovers and tackling will be a deciding factor. To win, we need to be great tacklers and win the turnover battle.”
In terms of potentially extending the season, Bowden feels a postseason berth would be a fitting reward for the Longhorns’ effort and perseverance this season.
“Making the playoffs will be a nice reward for the improvements our kids have made over the past year,” Bowden said. “They worked hard the past two offseasons and making the playoffs gives them some payback. Plus, it solidifies that correlation between hard work and success.”