Longhorns looking to build off best season under Sandford, Dragons begin Maxfield regime

Coming off their best season under the tutelage of head coach Blake Sandford, the Early Longhorns are seeking their first postseason berth since 2008. The Bangs Dragons, meanwhile, are starting anew as former Brownwood head coach Kyle Maxfield takes the reins of a program coming off a winless campaign.

Both teams are eyeing a fast start to the season as the Brown County rivals square off at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Dragon Memorial Stadium in the 2018 opener for both squads.

While Early, which posted a 3-7 record in Sandford’s third season, has definitive long-term goals, the Longhorns are taking a day-by-day approach to achieving its objectives.

“This is the only game we play this week so it is absolutely the most important one,” Sandford said. “We’re not looking to next week, we’re worried about this week. Each game, that game is what’s most important. That’s what we’re working on right now, and trying to be as successful as we can be.”

For a Bangs program that’s won twice in the previous three seasons and carries a 16-game losing streak into the opener — the sooner the next win comes the better.

“A win would be a great start to the season, but at the same time we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket,” Maxfield said. “It’s a rivalry game with Early and we want to play our hearts out and try and come away with a win. It’s always nice to go into Week 2 with a win and hopefully we get better from the experience.”

The Longhorns enter the season coming off a pair of dominant scrimmage efforts, shutting out both Goldthwaite and Reagan County.

“The work ethic, the running of the plays, the flying around, the tackling, creating turnovers, all that stuff that we are in control of, I was really proud of the kids and the way the executed and fought hard against who we were going against,” Sandford said. “Two-a-days is a long deal, you’re practicing a lot against yourself before you take on somebody else. I was pleased to see them get after it whenever there was a different colored jersey over there.”

After a shaky scrimmage performance against San Saba, the Dragons showed significant improvement in their final outing against Comanche.

“When you look at the big picture we’ve taken steps forward, especially from the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage,” Maxfield said. “We still have a lot of question marks about the team in general, but we feel like we’ve answered some questions. There are a lot of challenges we’re going to face in this first game situation that hopefully we’re ready for. We’ve improved each day, in some areas more than others. We’ve been taking steps in the right direction and hopefully we can have some success early in the year to build confidence.”

The Longhorns are proven on the offensive end with Ryan Trompler returning at quarterback, a receiving corps that features Ty Schafer and Timmy Smithson, among others, and backfield led by Jesson Tarrant and Jose Pesina.

Defensively, the Longhorns have not yielded a touchdown in scrimmage action and Austin Reveille intercepted three passes against Reagan County.

“I’m excited to see that Ryan has continued where we left off as far as throwing the ball, and our receivers are getting open, finding open grass and catching the ball,” Sandford said. “Our running backs were doing a good job of being patient and allowing the O-line to do their thing. That part of the game I was really excited about.

“Defensively, I’m excited about the front guys and linebackers, and the way they executed. Of course our secondary was being aggressive and confident at stopping the pass. All the parts of the puzzle were exciting to see, seeing them execute and get after that. I like that.”

With five starters back on both sides of the ball, coupled with installing a new offensive and defensive scheme, Maxfield had some holes to fill at Bangs. Dragons who have stood out early on include Justin Wilson at quarterback, Seth Anderson at both running back and quarterback, and Colton Martin in a variety of positions.

“We’re pretty close, but we’re not as multiple as probably what Early is going to be, but we feel like we’ve got enough in to be successful on both sides of the ball,” Maxfield said. “We’ve been working kicking game and that’s always really big early in the year, so hopefully we can execute in all three areas of the game.”

The greatest concern for Maxfield heading into the contest is how the Dragons will handle adversity when it arises during the game.

“In the Comanche scrimmage they drove it down the field a couple of times but we were able to create a turnover, which changed the whole momentum,” Maxfield said. “Maybe that gave them a little taste of what it’s like to overcome something that looks like it’s going bad, and get it turned around.”

Early’s objective, meanwhile, is to use its experience to make Bangs as uncomfortable as possible on both sides of the ball.

“We have to contain the great athletes that they have, get them off the field, and not allow them to move the chains or score,” Sandford said. “We have to create some turnovers.

“Offensively, we just have to get the ball and go score.”

Sandford added the week leading up to practice could play just as important of a role as stepping onto the field Friday night.

“We still need to continue to build,” Sandford said. “If you have one good day that doesn’t mean the next one is going to be good if you don’t continue to work at it. We have to have a great week of practice this week. It’s very important that we practice hard to get ourselves in position to be successful.”

According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 10-point favorite.