EARLY — Through two games, the Early Longhorns have looked like two different teams. In the opener against Cisco, the defense played well, while the offense struggled. Last week against Wall, the offense came around, but the defense faltered.
Early head coach Robbie Tindol hopes the Longhorns can put forth a complete effort Friday night as they seek their first victory in the second game ever at Clyde’s new Bulldog Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.
The Longhorns (0-2) dropped a 32-21 decision to Wall last Saturday — delayed a day due to Friday’s severe thunderstorms — in a game in which Early fell behind 26-7 early in the third period and closed the deficit to five points in the fourth period, but could not complete the comeback.
“A lot of this year is about teaching, teaching the team how to stay with it and knowing when they have to do the things necessary to win a football game,” Tindol said. “We put ourselves back in contention to win the game last week, but then we’d have a break or bust that set us back. And then there’s the mental aspect to coming back and overcoming bad things.”
Clyde (1-1), meanwhile, was routed by Graham, 34-0, in its home opener last week after squeaking past Wichita Falls Hirschi, 21-20, in Week 0.
“Both of us are coming off a loss, and neither team wants to feel that again,” Tindol said. “The conditioning our kids are getting this week, and the way they are approaching the game, I think it’s been pretty healthy. But I’d like to see more emotion come out of these kids. They need to show the desire to win instead of trying not to fail.”
Tindol was most pleased with the way the Longhorns rebounded from a 7-point outing against Cisco, which included just 11 yards rushing and 150 total yards. Early tallied 362 yards of total offense against Wall, with 161 coming on the ground.
“We blocked better and didn’t have near as many blown assignments as the first game,” Tindol said. “Sometimes the kids think themselves out of a good blocking scheme, but they just have to have the confidence and consistency to stick with what they’re doing.”
Through the air, the Longhorns picked up 201 yards behind a second-half rotation of Ethan Horton and Chase Reeves at quarterback. Horton was banged up on a pass play, which led to Reeves taking over the snaps, and Tindol wanting to see a better pass blocking effort out of the line.
“Our pass protection is still not where we would like it to be, but it’s getting better,” Tindol said.
Early is facing a Clyde defense that surrendered 368 yards to Graham and is giving up an average of 281 yards per game. The Longhorns, meanwhile, are averaging 256 yards and 14 points per outing.
Horton has completed 22-of-46 passes for 293 yards with one touchdown and one interception, while Reeves is 5-of-9 for 47 yards through the air.
Reeves is also the leading rusher for the Longhorns with 70 yards and a touchdown, trailed by Ty New’s 41 yards and a score and 31 yards from Horton. Tucker King also rushed for an 11-yard touchdown on an end around last week.
Zac Fox leads the receiving corps with nine catches for 122 yards, including a seven-reception, 102-yard effort against Wall. Matt Lewis, Thomas Aly and Payton Hiltibidal have added four receptions each for a combined 130 yards, while King has caught two passes for 51 yards and a touchdown.
“Defensively, Clyde is going to bring a lot of pressure,” Tindol said. “They basically run out of a 50 front and they stack their linebackers and try and bring them at opportune times. It’s going to be a test for our offensive line as to whether we can pick up those blocks, make yardage and keep the chains moving.”
Clyde’s offense has had its own struggles this season as it averages just 10.5 points and 142.5 total yards per game. Against Graham, the Bulldogs mustered just 96 total yards and rushed for 29 yards on 22 carries.
Quarterback Landon Liles has completed only 4-of-11 passes for 39 yards with a pair of interceptions, but has rushed for a team-high 118 yards. Taylor Rogers has chipped in 69 rushing yards on 19 carries, while Josh Henson is the leading receiver with two catches for 14 yards.
“They like to run the football and they don’t spread the field as much as others we’ve seen or scrimmaged against,” Tindol said. “They run out of an offset I or I formation, and they try and gain an advantage by having an offset fullback. They’re diverse, though, and will go to a one-back set sometimes. They play really well on the offensive line, so this will be a huge test for our defensive line.”
Tindol cited three keys for the Longhorns Friday in their attempt to avoid an 0-3 start — kick coverage, the turnover battle and red zone production.
“I’d like to see our kicking game get a lot better, and I know it can be,” Tindol said. “We’ve made some strides in the kicking game, with our punt team and our kickoff team, but we need to do a better job.
“We also need to cut down on turnovers and be an opportunistic team that gets turnovers while holding on to the football and not giving away our chances. And when we have chances in the red zone, we’ve got to score. The red zone scoring is probably going to be the biggest key to the game.”