BANGS — With 37 seconds remaining and the ball at midfield, the Early Longhorns were poised to capture their first victory of the season. But the Bangs defense held, not allowing a yard on the final four snaps of the game, as the Dragons opened defense of their District 8-2A championship with a 21-15 victory at Memorial Stadium.
In a game fitting of a spirited rivalry — where records are the furthest thing from the two teams’ minds — the Longhorns (0-5, 0-1) had an answer every time the Dragons (4-1, 1-0) appeared ready to pull away.
“I knew Early was going to come in here guns blazing, playing as hard as they could,” said Bangs head coach Chuck Lipsey, who improved to 2-0 against the Longhorns. “There were four quarters of good, clean football. Both teams got after it hard and you can’t beat that.”
Despite falling short in the district opener, Early head coach Robbie Tindol was pleased with the effort the Longhorns displayed.
“We’re getting better every week,” Tindol said. “One game doesn’t make or break you, and we have a chance to line up next week and do our thing and get a win under our belts.
“We had one mission in mind, and it didn’t happen for the kids tonight, but I saw how they played and attacked and I’ll go to war with these guys any time. We’re still a young football team but we’re learning in a hurry. I feel bad we didn’t win the game, but I was happy with the way we played. They showed me some character tonight.”
The defenses dominated for most of the night as the Dragons yielded just 215 yards of total offense — 167 rushing and 48 passing — while the Longhorns allowed only 194 total yards — 141 passing and 53 rushing. Bangs, however, came up with the biggest defensive stand.
Attempting to milk the final 4:28 off the clock, Bangs was stopped and executed just a 25-yard punt, which gave Early possession of the ball at the 50 with 37 ticks on the clock.
On first down, Chase Reeves just overthrew Riley Cason, who was being tightly covered, at the Bangs 10. Reeves took the next snap and attempted to run through the Dragon defense, but Bangs did not give an inch.
The failed run forced Early to down the ball on third down, which set up fourth-and-10 from midfield. On fourth down, Reeves again scrambled after he was unable to find an open receiver, and again the Dragon defense pulled him down for no gain with 1 second remaining.
“There were a couple of times during the game we had to make some big stands, and that was the biggest,” Lipsey said. “They moved Chase back to quarterback and thought he might be able to run it, but we kept him contained and it worked out good for us.”
Added Tindol, “We ran out of chances to come back and prove ourselves. Bangs wanted to burn the clock in the second half and we had too many three-and-outs early. Time just ran out on us.”
Early shaved the deficit to 21-15 with 4:28 left as the Longhorns marched 65 yards in 11 plays to reduce Bangs’ lead to one score.
Ty New scored on a 2-yard run after Early converted a trio of third downs to keep the drive alive. Ethan Horton — who completed 7-of-23 passes for 128 yards with a touchdown and pair of interceptions — connected with Thomas Aly for 13 yards on a third-and-10, Reeves rushed for 11 yards on a third-and-3 and Payton Hiltibidal caught a 5-yard pass on third-and-4.
“Everybody was in rhythm and in sync that drive,” Tindol said. “That’s what we can do whenever everybody has the same state of mind and is focused.”
Bangs put the first points of the second half on the board with 10 seconds left in the third period, after the Dragons and Longhorns exchanged six punts to open the second half.
Starting on the Early 38, the Dragons got a boost from Corey Sanchez — who rushed for all of his team-high 31 yards in the second half — and needed just five plays to extend their lead to 21-9.
A 20-yard run by Sanchez set the table for Marcus Berniard’s 7-yard touchdown run, but the two-point conversion failed.
“That touchdown added a little bit of security, but we knew it wasn’t enough,” Lipsey said. “We knew our defense was playing hard and they were having a hard time running the ball, but we were always afraid they may pop one with them throwing the ball as much as they did.”
Early wrestled away the momentum prior to halftime by scoring the last nine points of the half, including its first touchdown with six seconds left before intermission.
Bangs’ Devin Rowland had intercepted a pass by Horton and returned it to the Longhorn 37 with 27 seconds left in the half. But Bangs quarterback Tyler Fuqua — who completed 14-of-22 passes for 141 yards — was then intercepted on the first play of the drive by Matt Lewis, who returned the pick 28 yards to the Bangs 36.
On second down, Horton connected with Reeves on a short pass, then Reeves broke several tackles en route to rumbling for a 36-yard touchdown that cut Bangs’ halftime lead to 15-9.
“It really picked us up when Chase made the run before halftime and got us a touchdown,” Tindol said. “That showed his determination and his will. He wouldn’t go down.”
Added Lipsey, “We were going to run our jail break screen and try and dump it to Grant (Bear) and try and get a big gain. But they made a play and put together a drive. Their quarterback hit Chase, and we didn’t tackle him, so they scored right before the half.”
Bangs looked as if it might run away with the game after grabbing a 15-0 lead midway through the second period.
The first Dragon points came with 1:08 left in the first period as a botched snap over the head of Early punter Brian Bowen resulted in a safety and a 2-0 Bangs lead.
Bangs then took the ensuing possession 54 yards in eight plays as Fuqua connected with Grant Bear on an 11-yard scoring toss at the 10:29 mark of the second period for a 9-0 Dragon lead.
Following a 15-yard pass interference call, Fuqua completed five straight passes to lead the Dragons the final 38 yards on their scoring drive.
“The safety was big and broke the ice,” Lipsey said. “We wanted to run, but we’ll get into our no huddle spread stuff. The receivers did a good job, the linemen did a good job and Tyler did a good job throwing the football for two touchdowns.”
The second touchdown pass occurred at the end of Bangs’ next drive as Fuqua connected with Marcus Smith on the Dragons’ jailbreak screen for a 36-yard touchdown and 15-point lead with 5:52 left in the half. The Dragons’ 58-yard march took just seven plays.
Early put its first points on the board with 1:47 left in the first half on a 32-yard Bowen field goal. The Longhorns moved 70 yards in 13 plays to produce their first points.
The Dragons will head to San Saba next week, while the Longhorns will host Brady.