Fighting a dreary drizzle, the Early Longhorns’ spread offense struggled to move the ball and stop the Paradise Panthers in a 28-0 Homecoming loss in Early on Friday night.
Trailing by 28 early in the fourth quarter, the Longhorns were able to find some success through the air with screen passes to receiver Rowdy Elkins that went for 28 and 26 yards. But as was the case most of the night, the drive stalled when Early went to its rushing attack. With a first and goal at the six, two keepers from quarterback Ryan Trompler netted the ‘Horns a one yard loss. Facing fourth down, Trompler tried to connect with Elkins one last time but threw behind him to end Early’s last scoring threat.
The Panthers were able to ice the game by running and then taking a knee in their own territory a few minutes later.
Early managed just 44 yards on the ground, paced by sophomore Jesson Tarrant with 21 on seven carries. Trompler had an efficient night through the air, however, completing 11 of 13 passes for 108 yards. Elkins led the way with 62 yards receiving.
The Panthers attempted just three passes all night and completed none, preferring to gash the Longhorns with a deceptive triple-option attack buoyed by a strong offensive line. Paradise stated its intentions early in the game, scoring touchdowns on its first two drives of the first quarter in just six total plays.
Early’s first two drives ended with a fumble and a punt. When Paradise took the ball from midfield on its second drive, running back Tucker Edwards took the handoff from his own 47 and broke free for a 53-yard touchdown to put the Panthers up 14-0 just minutes into the game.
Paradise’s fast start put the pressure on Early, which managed a solid drive in its third opportunity of the game but felt it couldn’t settle for a field goal. Rushes from Trompler, Tarrant and Hayden Barker moved the Longhorns from their own 25 into Panthers territory — Early fumbled for the second time during the drive, but managed to fall on the ball and keep possession.
But again the battle was lost in the trenches, as a five-yard second down loss on a Trompler rush put Early behind the chains and forced the ‘Horns to try passes on third and fourth down, both of which fell incomplete for a turnover at the Paradise 29. It was the first of three consecutive drives that ended in a turnover on downs for Early.
Paradise halted its onslaught, fumbling the ball over to Early towards the end of the first quarter and turning the ball over on downs to start the second. But the Panthers finally added to their lead near halftime, taking advantage of starting field position near the 50. Junior Jacob Robinson emerged as Paradise’s go-to option, shouldering the load with three first-down runs on that drive to set up a five-yard touchdown run for Angus Pace to put the Panthers up 21-0 at the half.
Paradise’s final touchdown came at the very beginning of the fourth quarter after a demoralizing drive in which they converted three fourth downs. They wouldn’t need a fourth — Robinson punched it in from five yards on first and goal to give Paradise the game’s final touchdown.
Paradise finished with 183 yards on the ground, and Robinson accounted for 79 of those.
After the game, Early head coach Blake Sandford said the weather was not a major factor in his team’s struggles. “We practice in the rain,” he said, “so that wasn’t something we were afraid of. That was something we had prepared for.”
After a few Longhorns had to be helped off the field during the game with injuries — including linemen Chase and Jaiden Cochran — Sandford said the upcoming bye week will be a good opportunity to get the team healthy and focused again before district play. “That’s one of the things that we can take from this, that we have a chance to heal,” he said. “You keep your routine the same and then you prepare exceptionally well. You try to get ready for the next ballgame. You can’t go backward — you have to always try to step forward.”
Early will return to action on Oct. 13 when it takes on the Brady Bulldogs to open district play. The game will kick at 7:30 p.m. in Brady.