SWEETWATER — The Early Longhorns have tried to establish a balanced offensive scheme all season, and their two opening scores in Friday’s Regional playoff game set reinforced that plan. The Longhorns scored on the ground and through the air early on the way to a 24-12 win.
The Longhorns’ first score came on a 52-yard Collin Rome run and their second came through the air when Seth Coolbaugh came down with a 34-yard Nick Lyle pass. Those first quarter touchdowns helped the Longhorns open a 14-0 lead that they would not surrender.
Rome’s touchdown came midway through the first quarter, on the Longhorns’ second possession. He took the Lyle handoff 52 yards for the game’s opening score. Mitchell Bailey added the PAT to give Early a 7-0 lead.
“He’s (Rome) very explosive. (He’s) got a lot of speed and power,” Early head coach Robbie Tindol said. “It also shows you how good our offensive line is.”
On the Longhorns’ next drive, Coolbaugh’s catch capped of a seven-play, 55 yard drive. He pulled in the Lyle pass, that went just over the outstretched hands of the Kermit defender, at the goal-line for the touchdown.
“Nick has matured this season. He learns every time he drops back to throw the ball. He does have a lively arm and a quick release,” Tindol said.
Early added a third first-half score when Bailey kicked a 37-yard field goal to cap off a 72-yard drive with two minutes left before halftime. Rome picked up 43 yards on a pair of rushes to open the drive. With the offense facing fourth-and-two at the Kermit five-yard line, the backfield moved early and then the Horns were called for holding, pushing the field goal attempt back 15 yards.
“He (Bailey) is a weapon for us. He’s been in the hot seat and he keeps his calm,” Tindol said.
On the ensuing kickoff, Cody Bullard recovered an onside kick that bounced off the facemask of one of the Kermit return up-men. The Longhorns couldn’t sustain a drive, though, and went into halftime with a 17-6 lead.
Bo Ross rushed 22 times for 141 yards and a touchdown. Rome rushed for more than 100 yards in the first half, and finished the game with 110 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Lyle finished the game with 165 yards passing on 10 completions out of 23 attempts.
“We’ve got a good set of backs. Bo’s a good, slashing runner,” Tindol said.
He went on to give credit to the offensive line, for their run blocking and pass protection.
“They do work extremely hard on run blocking and on pass pro(tection),” he said.
The Yellowjackets got onto the scoreboard with a 24-yard Jorge Vasquez touchdown reception of an Austin Grubbs pass. The score was set up when Johnny Mendoza intercepted a Lyle pass and returned it 20 yards. It appeared that Mendoza fumbled the ball at the end of his return, but he was ruled down by the officials.
The PAT kick was blocked by Cameron Moore, making the score 14-6 with 4:52 in the second quarter.
The defense came up with big stops in the second half, including a fumble recovered by Bailey on a drive that the Yellowjackets took to the Early 19-yard line. After Lyle threw an interception into the end zone, the defense came up with another stand, stopping Kermit at its own 27-yard line. A Kermit holding penalty negated a fake punt that appeared good for the first down. On the next play, Jordan Pfenenger forced an incomplete pass with a hit on the receiver, and the Longhorns took over on downs.
“The defense really stepped up and played. Kermit’s a good football team. They play the wishbone and it’s hard to stop them. Our defensive performance told the whole story,” Tindol said.
Ross scored three plays later on a 19-yard run. Bailey added the PAT, giving the Longhorns a 24-6 lead with 4:07 left in the game.
The Yellowjackets added a touchdown with 3:07 to play on a 72-yard touchdown pass from Grubbs to Manuel Pargas. The two-point pass attempt was incomplete, making the score 24-12.
Bailey led the team with 6.5 tackles and a nine-yard sack. Rome had six solo tackles.
“Our defense did a great job tonight. They stuffed the line of scrimmage and kept them from moving the ball, forcing them to punt,” Tindol said. “Turnovers at this stage of the season are critical, and the defense got on some fumbles.”
The Longhorns will face Littlefield, 28-21 overtime winners over Muleshoe, next Friday in Midland.