BRADY — The Early Longhorns scored 13 points in the game’s final five minutes to stun the Brady Bulldogs in Brady, 38-37, and notch their first win in District 3-3A Division I action Friday night.
Early’s defense allowed 240 rushing yards and three touchdowns to junior Bulldogs back Ryan Decker, whose prodigious second half saw Brady (0-6, 0-1) overtake the Longhorns (3-3, 1-0) and build a late 12-point lead. Brady finished with 477 yards of total offense. The Longhorns rushed for 261 yards, led by sophomore Jesson Tarrant at 100, and quarterback Ryan Trompler completed 18 of 31 passes for 190 yards and five total touchdowns.
With 4:42 to play in the fourth, Decker rumbled for a 7-yard score that put Brady up 37-25. Brady’s big lead was itself a major comeback — the Longhorns led 22-7 midway through the second — and it looked like the Bulldogs would cruise to the win.
Brady nearly sealed the victory when it forced Early to a fourth-and-15 play on the next drive, but Devyn Burns slipped unnoticed up the seam and caught Trompler’s pass for a crucial 32-yard touchdown on a do-or-die play.
Early’s onside kick attempt was unsuccessful, and Brady attempted to milk the clock. But Chase Keilers fell on a Decker fumble on the drive’s first play, giving the Longhorns three minutes to shoot for the end zone and the go-ahead score.
They found it in one play. Trompler hit Tarrant on a screen pass to the left, and Tarrant followed his blocks down the sideline and all the way to the end zone. After a missed two-point conversion, the Longhorns had a stunning one-point lead. Needing a quick response, Brady again fed Decker the rock as it had successfully all evening. But Decker put the ball on the ground yet again, and Ethan Rhodes' recovery for Early sealed the improbable Longhorns win.
Early opened the scoring on the game’s first possession with an eight-play, 84-yard drive that it punctuated with a successful two-point conversion on a screen pass to the left. Trompler came out on fire, completing 5 of 6 passes on the drive and finding Burns on the drive’s final play for a 14-yard touchdown to start the night on a high note.
Brady’s first drive was a near-polar opposite — it lasted just three plays and included a negative rush, an incompletion and, ultimately, an interception by the touchdown-scoring Burns. Burns’ pick gave the Longhorns prime real estate at Brady’s 24, but Trompler gave the ball right back to the Bulldogs with an interception zipped over the middle to sophomore Bulldog Ross Jacoby on the drive’s very first play.
Decker then broke a 28-yard run to move the Brady chains for the first time in the contest. But that would be the only first down on the drive — Brady turned the ball over on downs after a 5-yard first down loss put the Bulldogs behind the chains. Despite a 12-yard completion on third down, Brady couldn’t muster the final 3 yards on its fourth down play and gave Early the ball back again.
Early went three and out, however, and the Brady offense finally sprang to life when it took the subsequent punt. Early nearly got off the field after two straight incompletions, but speedy Bulldogs junior Kelton Bernard took a checkdown pass 40 yards to move the ball to the Early 15 yard line. Three plays and an extra point later, the Bulldogs had pulled within one, 8-7.
The first quarter plodded along, hindered by penalties on both squads and a choppy pace of play. But as the first moved into the second, Early began to pull away. First the Longhorns drove 52 yards for a score, a drive that almost ended after a Jose Pesina touchdown was called back for holding but was saved by a pass interference penalty on Brady one play later. A 7-yard Trompler keeper made it 15-7.
Then the ‘Horns went up 22-7 on a similar drive that ended with a convincing fake handoff to Baker and, again, a Trompler rush for the score, this one 20 yards. With 7:49 left in the second, it looked as though a rout might be on.
Indeed, Early almost took a bigger lead into halftime — but a costly mistake resulted in a 14-point swing. After consecutive successful runs sent the Bulldogs’ defense scrambling, Early lined up on the goal line and handed the ball again to Pesina to finish the drive. But the ball popped out of Pesina’s grasp as he fell toward the goal line, and Brady scooped it up in the end zone for a touchback. The Bulldogs capitalized on the subsequent drive, highlighted by a 55-yard completion to Bernard, and went to halftime trailing Early just 22-14.
Brady trimmed that lead immediately in the third quarter. Decker got outside for a 56-yard touchdown on the drive’s second play, pulling Brady to within one. A field goal on Brady’s next drive gave the Bulldogs their first lead of the game, 24-22.
Early re-took the lead briefly with a field goal of its own with 11:23 to play in the fourth, but Brady scored touchdowns on consecutive drives to give it what looked like a decisive 12-point margin. Trompler’s poise under pressure was a big part of Early’s late comeback, and Early head coach Blake Sandford said after the game that his staff has “one of the best quarterback coaches in the state” — who also happens to be Trompler’s father.
“All of our quarterbacks in our program are getting great instruction,” Sandford said, “just about keeping the play alive and always looking downfield. Of course our receivers are always trying to get open, and we’re trying to make a play.”
He credited his team’s resilience with the comeback win. “The belief of the kids in the program, that’s what we’re so proud of,” he said. “We’re proud of the kids and their effort.”
Early continues District 3-3A Division I action next week when it travels to Clyde for another Bulldogs showdown. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Friday.