Early picks up second win in three tries

EDDY — The Early Longhorns topped the Bruceville-Eddy Eagles, 39-29, Friday night in their first road contest of the season.

Trailing 33-16 with less than 9 minutes left in the game, Bruceville-Eddy (1-2) executed its second successful fake punt of the night to keep a scoring drive alive and cut the Early (2-1) lead to 33-22. The Eagles then recovered an onside kick and once again drove the field for a quick touchdown, trimming the Longhorns’ lead to 33-29.

But Early recovered the ensuing kickoff, this time a high, shallow pooch kick, and the Longhorns were able to ice the game with a final rushing touchdown from quarterback Ryan Trompler with less than a minute to play.

Trompler led the Longhorns in both rushing (133 yards) and passing (149 yards) on the evening, recovering from a rocky first half for another solid performance. He accounted for five touchdowns, three on the ground. Senior Chase Keilers led Early receivers with 61 yards on three receptions, while sophomore Jesson Tarrant had 33 yards rushing and 39 receiving.

The game’s first half was characterized by penalties, sloppy play and a choppy pace that began even before kickoff when the game was delayed 20 minutes by technical difficulties. Bruceville-Eddy took the opening kick, and Early looked to gain a quick advantage when it pinned the Eagles at their own 5 yard line to start the game. But a personal foul penalty, the first of many on the day, gave Bruceville-Eddy more breathing room.

It seemed the Eagles couldn’t get out of their own way, as consecutive illegal procedure penalties mitigated the personal foul and pushed Bruceville-Eddy to a near-hopeless third and 24. But Eagles quarterback D.J. Weaver found receiver Whitley Wright on a slant over the middle for an improbable 25-yard completion and a first down.

When Early stuffed the Eagles at the line to prevent a third-and-3 conversion near midfield, it seemed the long completion wouldn’t burn them. But again the Eagles surprised — this time a fake punt, handled by Weaver, netted the Eagles another drive-saving first down. A goal-line stand limited the Eagles to three points on a field goal, but they’d struck first. Their game-opening drive lasted most of the first quarter.

The Eagles quickly suffered their own misfortune when, after stopping Early at the its own 31 yard line, returner Johnny Lewis muffed the punt and fumbled the ball back to the Longhorns at the Bruceville-Eddy 35. The Longhorns took advantage of the good field position, punching the ball in from 3 yards out with a Trompler keeper to go up 7-3.

Bruceville-Eddy regained the lead on the next drive. Though Early defensive back Brandon Lombrano nearly hauled down an interception on a second-and-8 pass over the middle, Bruceville-Eddy took its second chance to convert the third-and-8 from the Early 15 on a 12-yard completion to Wright. Junior fullback Kyle Parsons ran for the 3-yard score, making it 10-7 Eagles.

The Eagles added another field goal with just 43 seconds left in the half, and it looked like they would take their advantage to the locker room. But a good kick return all the way to the Eagles’ 33 yard line gave Early a chance to respond. Facing a third-and-5 from the 28 with 10 seconds left, Trompler dropped back with time to throw. Despite the cautious Eagles coverage, junior receiver Ty Shafer was able to come open down the right seam, and Trompler found him as he entered the end zone for a game-tying touchdown. A missed extra point made it 13-13 at the half.

Early broke the game open in the third quarter, finally clicking on offense when it took the second-half kick. A third-down screen to the right for senior Rowdy Elkins gained the Longhorns over 20 yards and gave them a first and goal at the 1, which Trompler promptly punched in for the go-ahead score.

The Longhorns’ defense surrendered another field goal to the Eagles, but Early’s offense didn’t let up. On a third-and-10 play from the Bruceville-Eddy 45, Trompler hit Tarrant as a checkdown option and he rumbled for 25 yards to move the chains. Plays later Tarrant took a handoff and fought through several tacklers to find the end zone for Early, a 12-yard run on third down. The Longhorns led 27-16.

Elkins added a 19-yard basket catch in the left corner of the end zone early in the fourth quarter, giving Early a 33-16 lead the Eagles’ fierce comeback couldn’t overcome.

Early nearly added to its final tally when Keilers scooped up a Bruceville-Eddy fumble on a desperation lateral on the game’s final play, but his resulting touchdown was called back for a taunting penalty. Early and Bruceville-Eddy combined for over 200 penalty yards on the night.

Early head coach Blake Sandford said he was still happy with his team and its offensive performance. “I appreciate the efforts of our kids, and I think they fought hard tonight,” Sandford said. “We scored quite a few points, and that’s the best thing I took away from it.”

He said the Longhorns are “always aware” of the possibility of fake punts and onside kicks like the ones Bruceville-Eddy executed. “We work on everything every day, and tonight the ball bounced lucky for them.

“Our kids just decided to get it done,” he said.

The Longhorns remain on the road next Friday night for a 7:30 contest against the Tolar Rattlers (1-2), who are coming off a 21-14 loss to Boyd.