HICO — An offense that clicked most of the night and a second-half defensive shutout Friday night gave the Early Longhorns a 46-21 victory over the Hico Tigers, and with it, a 4-1 start to the season — matching the best start since 2006.
Hico (2-3), on its homecoming night, won the toss and elected to receive to start the game. It did not take long, less than five minutes, for the Tigers to draw first blood, scoring on a run-heavy drive. The opening score was the only time Hico led throughout the entire game, however. The Hico backfield combination of senior Luc Hyles and senior Hunter Koonsman initially frustrated the Longhorn defense. However, the lack of a passing game allowed Early’s defense to make some adjustments to counteract the powerful running attack.
The Longhorns responded quickly to the Hico score. A little more than one minute later, senior quarterback Ryan Trompler, as he has done so many times this season, connected with sophomore wide receiver Timmy Smithson, who darted nearly 60 yards for the score.
The packed visitor stands in Hico exploded as once again, just a few minutes later, the Trompler-Smithson combination hooked up for another 60- yard touchdown, giving the Longhorns a 14-7 lead heading in to the second quarter. The chemistry between quarterback and receiver was again evident as Trompler completed 15 of 26 passes with three scores in a 292-yard performance. Smithson caught six passes for 182 yards and was the recipient of those three scoring passes.
“I have a great group of receivers around me,” Trompler said. “Timmy and I, and all of the receivers have worked hard. It is a lot fun for me to put the ball in his hands, and in the hands of all of our playmakers.”
Late in the second quarter, Koonsman, Hico’s 6-foot-2, 215-pounder slammed his way into the end zone to tie the game at 14. Junior Jesson Tarrant responded for the Longhorns, scoring from 31 yards out to give Early the 21-14 halftime lead.
In the opening minutes of the second half Early scored twice, once on offense and once on defense to take a 34-14 lead. On the defensive score, senior Brandon Lombrano scooped up a Hico fumble and took it to the house. The Longhorn defense gave up 262 yards, with 251 coming on the ground, with the one turnover resulting in six points.
Early Defensive Coordinator Daniel Price quickly became the happiest man on the field, as senior Ty Schafer blocked a Hico punt and returned it for another score early in the fourth quarter. The Longhorn attempt at a two-point conversion was no good, giving Early a 40-21 lead.
The Longhorns — who finished with 397 yards of total offense — scored one last time, as Trompler found Smithson in the corner of the end zone, giving Early a 46-21 lead and the victory.
“I liked what I saw,” Smithson said. “Ryan and I have a great connection and when we saw how their corners were lining up, we knew we were going to have options.”
Head coach Blake Sandford said the Longhorns were ready.
“I am proud of all of them,” Sandford said. “They are well coached and were put in a position to be successful. We had to battle and fight. I am proud of them.”
The Longhorns, like many other local teams are on bye next week, giving them two weeks to prepare for their Oct. 12 District 3-3A Division I opener against Eastland (4-1), a 41-27 winner over Jacksboro Friday night. Kickoff for the district opener will be at 7:30 p.m. at Longhorn Stadium.