EARLY — A fresh start couldn’t be more welcomed for the Early Longhorns, who will attempt to earn their first victory of the season when the undefeated Jim Ned Indians visit McDonald Field for the District 6-2A opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Longhorns (0-3) are coming off their bye, and non-district losses to No. 2 Cisco (20-9), Crawford (34-17) and Class 3A Clyde (35-17).
“The kids are hungry to get back on the field, especially after the open date,” said Early head coach Robbie Tindol. “They’re ready to come back out and show what they can really do and show what kind of team they are. They want to prove they are as good as they think they are. The only way you can do that is by going out and playing the next game and winning it.”
Early has been within striking distance for most of the game in each of its losses. The Longhorns were in position to win all three games heading into the fourth period, but finishing games has been Early’s greatest weakness to date.
“Our kids never laid down or quit in the pre-district games,” Tindol said. “They got back up the next week and really came out and battled people through the start of the game and the first three quarters of every game. We made some mistakes in the fourth quarter, had some big plays made on us and didn’t execute to keep up.
“A loss can help you sometimes and show you where you need to get to. I know this is going to help us down the road. Where we can get will be determined by how hard we play and what kind of determination we have.”
Jim Ned (3-0) has gradually improved each week as the Indians head into Friday’s match-up with victories over Merkel (14-7), Class 3A Breckenridge (28-14) and Eastland (45-0). The Indians’ resurgence has been led by quarterback Jordan Caffman, who has done more damage on the ground than through the air, which is a significantly different approach for Jim Ned this season.
“They’re a better football team because they’re keeping the ball in the quarterback’s hands,” Tindol said. “They’re doing a lot more running than they are throwing the football and that’s what he does best. He’s got some speed, plus they have a little different scheme.
“They’re also jelling a little bit better than they were last year. They’ve got the whole team concept going right now.”
In last week’s 45-0 thrashing of Eastland, Jim Ned scored on the first play from scrimmage thanks to a 69-yard run by Caffman, part of the Indians’ 386-yard rushing total. Three Indians finished with over 100 yards on the ground — Hayden Holson (133), Joseph Mayfield (130) and Caffman (117).
Run defense has been a problem for Early in its first three games as the Longhorns are giving up an average of 282.3 yards per game on the ground. The Longhorns will also be playing without starting linebacker Bob Atchley, who will miss the game with a knee injury.
“It’s going to come down to the challenge between our kids and their kids up front,” Tindol said. “We’ll have some bad plays, every team does, but bad plays that cost you on the scoreboard are the ones that really matter. We have to keep them from big-playing us to keep ourselves in the ball game.”
On the other side of the ball, the Longhorns offense has shown more signs of life each week, though Early is averaging only 14.3 points per contest.
In his two starts at quarterback, Nick Lyle has completed 29-of-60 passes for 395 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Collin Rome leads the ground game with 331 yards and three touchdowns.
The Longhorns will be attempting to establish a better rhythm offensively against a Jim Ned defense that is allowing just seven points per game, and yielded only 130 total yards to Eastland a week ago.
“Their defense is going to be a challenge for us,” Tindol said. “They’re going to put a lot of people on the line of scrimmage, but hopefully we can exploit some weaknesses they have. We’re going to have to block and open holes for our running game. In the passing game, it will come down to whether we can get in the right situations to make big plays for ourselves.”
While the district opener will not make or break the Longhorns, they did open league play 1-0 in each of their back-to-back district championship seasons. Not only is the win important for establishing an early lead in the 6-2A race, it would also prevent a potential drop in morale that could come with an 0-4 start.
“There’s a lot riding on this game,” Tindol said. “District starts off and whoever is victorious in this game is going to be one up on everybody else. We want to be sitting in that position and not be battling another loss going into the second game of district. It’s going to be a huge challenge for us to beat a team that hasn’t been beaten. But our kids are ready for that opportunity to get on the field and prove what they can do.”
DISTRICT 6-2A FOOTBALL, Jim Ned (3-0) at Early (0-3), 7:30 p.m. Friday — McDonald Field, 2006 Result: Early 41, Jim Ned 21