EARLY - The Early Longhorns passed the first test in their four-week chase for the playoffs, and the Comanche Indians will provide the second challenge at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Indian Stadium.
After an 0-2 start to District 8-2A action, the Longhorns (3-4, 1-2) are attempting to finish the regular season with four straight victories and secure the district’s third playoff seed, which would qualify Early for the postseason for the fourth straight year.
Despite its struggles this season, Comanche (1-7, 1-3) - which is coming off a 56-21 loss to unbeaten Brady - has made strides in district play and is looking to play the role of spoiler, especially with the Longhorns’ huge game against Coleman looming next week. But head coach Robbie Tindol isn’t worried about the Longhorns taking the Indians lightly.
“The way we started district, we know every game is a like a playoff game,” Tindol said. “Every game is important. We have the chance to go into Comanche and play them and if we come out victorious, then we can set our sights on the next opponent. Right now it doesn’t do us any good to look ahead to Coleman because if we don’t take care of business against Comanche, that would knock us out of the picture.”
Early remained in the playoff picture with a bizarre 35-7 victory over San Saba last week. Four Longhorn turnovers and nine penalties for 81 yards allowed San Saba to stay in the game, which was even at 7-all at halftime, but the Early defense bailed out the team on several occasions after halftime.
“The defense really did save us,” Tindol said. “We had some things happen in the game that put our defense at a disadvantage, but we had some goal line stands. It was fun to watch our defense last week. Any time we play good defense we usually play good overall. We know we can’t get into a see who can score the most points kind of game.”
The Longhorns were in position to score more than the 35 points they finished with, but the turnovers - along with a pair of penalties - helped slow down Early’s offensive attack.
“In the first half we made some mistakes. We had the first play called back and it was a touchdown,” Tindol said. “We also had another touchdown called back and we didn’t score the rest of the half after that. In the third quarter, the kids were trying hard, they just weren’t taking care of the football. Putting the ball on the ground that many times is bad for any offense. But it was good to see them get into a rhythm and score some points in the fourth quarter.”
Early’s offense should give the Comanche defense fits, as the Indians have struggled mightily on that side of the ball.
Through four district games, Comanche is allowing 40 points and 473.5 yards of total offense per outing. In the Indians’ three district losses, they have yielded an average of 52.6 points and 581 yards of total offense - including 437.2 yards rushing.
The Longhorns are averaging 30.3 points and 345.1 total yards - 217.7 passing and 127.4 rushing - per game, but Early also has turned the ball over 20 times in seven games - almost three times per outing.
Early’s offense is led by quarterback Nick Lyle, who has completed 75-of-147 passes for 1,317 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, and receivers Cody Bullard (37-783, 3 TDs) and Seth Coolbaugh (19-320, 5 TDs).
“Cody’s a good receiver on one side and Seth’s on the other,” Tindol said. “Between the two of them they have most of our yards and catches. Cody can have a game where he has a ton of catches and then some weeks Seth will come in and have more catches and yards than Cody. Both guys do a great job of getting separation and catching the ball and defenses have to concentrate on them. That opens up some underneath stuff for our slots and inside guys. They’re also good blockers, so they’re a big part of our offense whether we’re throwing or running the ball.”
Early’s ground game has been led by Collin Rome (36-293, 6 TDs), Sean Aly (29-166) and Zach Green (35-131, 4 TDs).
Despite Comanche’s trouble stopping the run, Tindol plans to continue the Longhorns’ balanced offensive attack.
“We’re not a predominantly pass team or a predominantly run team,” Tindol said. “We like to have the ability to do both. We’re going to run the ball and pass the ball during the game. It’s more or less the execution of the kids, getting first downs and moving the chains. If we do that, bigger plays will come.”
On the other side of the ball, Comanche’s offense is averaging 28.5 points per game in district, up from the 19.7 points it averages for the season.
“We knew Comanche was going to get better as the year went on,” Tindol said. “They had a heck of a game with Bangs and they played well in the first half of the Brady game.”
Early’s defense, meanwhile, allows 22.6 points and 306.8 total yards - 233.4 rushing and 73.4 passing - per game.
Through the first three district games, Comanche quarterback Jerick Roberts had completed 27-of-51 passes for 480 yards and seven touchdowns. Cody Biggs had compiled 13 catches for 237 yards and four scores.
“They’re throwing the ball well and they have a couple of good receivers the quarterback likes to get the ball to,” Tindol said. ‘They run mostly out of an off-set I formation. They like to hold up the linebackers with some play action and throw the ball over the middle between the linebackers and the safeties. They’re a tough offense when they execute like they can.”