EARLY — An improbable comeback from a 12-point deficit in the final five minutes of their District 3-3A Division I opener has the Early Longhorns atop the standings heading into the second week of league action. A victory at Clyde at 7:30 p.m. could put Early on the fast track to its first playoff appearance since 2008.
Early (3-3, 1-0) is coming off a 38-37 victory at winless Brady last week, while Clyde (4-2, 1-0) held off a late charge from Merkel for a 23-21 district triumph.
“It’s set us off on the right foot, we’re in the top tier of the district at the beginning,” Early third-year head coach Blake Sandford said of last week’s win. “This gives us a great chance to do some things the rest of the district and/or postseason. That’s what we want to do, work to get into the postseason. With the first win, now we know we can do it. Now it’s just a matter of getting them.”
Reflecting back on the win over Brady, Sandford said, “What I told the kids at the end of the game is I’m listening on the headsets on offense and then on defense and none of the coaches are going crazy or bananas or anything like that, they’re just dialing in the plays.
“We had two great defensive stops and fumble recoveries and to get two scores off those, that’s a good sign going forward,” Sandford said. “The first time to score took us four plays and the second time took one play. It was just kids making great plays at the right time, needed plays. The kids and the coaches all just had a ‘let’s go do this’ about them, and went out and executed and scored.”
In terms of confidence, Sandford said last week’s victory proved that the Longhorns are capable of winning a game no matter the score or time remaining on the clock.
“We’re sitting here at a good mark at 3-3 right now, and the kids feel like they can execute the plays, move the chains, score quickly and have great defensive stops when it’s needed,” Sandford said. “It’s one thing to talk about confidence, it’s another to do something with confidence. I think that’s where they’re at right now.”
The Longhorns enter Friday’s contest averaging 24 points and 332 yards — 202 passing and 130 rushing — per game with 10 turnovers.
Quarterback Ryan Trompler continues to lead Early in both passing (111 of 179 for 967 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs) and rushing (345 yards, 9 TDs). Other weapons in the backfield include Jesson Tarrant (191 yards, 2 TDs), Hayden Barker (126 yards) and Jose Pesina (94 yards, 2 TDs). Primary receiving threats include Ty Schafer (34-277, TD), Rowdy Elkins (26-374, 2 TDs), Tarrant (24-218, TD), Devyn Burns (13- 209, 3 TDs) and Jim Fowler (8-62).
Defensively, the Longhorns are yielding 25 points and 361 yards — 235 on the ground and 126 through the air — with eight takeaways.
Standouts include Miguel Elizondo (86 tackles, 4 for loss), Brandon Lombrano (49 tackles, 1 for loss), Jadyn Lehde (41 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 FR), Burns (41 tackles, 1 FR, 1 INT), Teddy Ozuna (41 tackles, 2 for loss), Chase Keilers (37 tackles, 3 for loss, 4 FRs), Barker (34 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 sack), Mason Flippin (29 tackles), John Griffin (26 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 FR), Pesina (25 tackles), Ethan Rhodes (21 tackles) and Elkins (21 tackles).
Clyde, meanwhile, is averaging 35 points and 346 yards — 195 passing and 151 rushing — per outing, while yielding 27 points.
“They’ve been able to put some points on the board,” Sandford said. “They’re 4-2 and they’ve certainly hung with some folks and beat some folks. They execute on offense and defense very well.
“They’re a spread offense like we are running doubles and trips. They like to throw it around. They have good running backs and their quarterback can run some, too. On offense, and defense as well, it’s going to look a lot like what we do. They have some kids that, I don’t think they’re necessarily as big as they were last year, but are definitely talented. It’s going to be a test. They’re good at what they do.”
The Bulldogs are led by quarterbacks Payton Burton (680 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT) and Jax Roam (498 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT). Burton also leads Clyde in rushing (307 yards, 6 TDs) trailed by Donovan Gomez (281 yards, 4 TDs), Zach Wyatt (107 yards, TD) and Roam (94 yards, 4 TDs). Leading receivers include Payton Laughlin (45-589, 6 TDs), Gomez (10-109), Roam (7-77, TD), Wyatt (6-64), Isiah Cortez (6-76) and Cayman Freiman (5-96, TD).
Defensively for Clyde, leading tacklers include Gomez (60 tackles, 4 for loss), Caleb Cates (41 tackles, 5 for loss), Raymon Ortiz (35 tackles, 3 for loss), Wyatt (34 tackles) and Bo Baker (33 tackles, 1 for loss).
Clyde has also forced 17 turnovers — an average of almost three per game.
“We can’t beat ourselves,” Sandford said. “We can’t have turnovers, we have to keep playing to the best of our ability. If we play to the best of what we can do then I like our chances. On defense, we have to keep getting stops and turnovers, and we have to be able to tackle in open spaces when they throw it out there.”
Last season, Early fell to Clyde, 72-14
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is an 18-point underdog.