The District 8-2A opener between the Bangs Dragons and Early Longhorns signaled a shift in league power last season. More surprises could be in store Friday night when the Brown County rivals clash in the 7:30 p.m. district opener at Bangs’ Memorial Stadium.
Bangs, which had not reached the playoffs since 2005, rallied to stun Early, 29-27, a year ago, as the Longhorns’ run of district championships came to an end. This season, the Dragons (2-1) are the defending league champions and the favorites on paper, and the Longhorns (0-4) would like nothing more than to turn the tables after last year’s outcome.
“I hope this is a turnaround for us, but it wouldn’t matter who we played this week,” said Early head coach Robbie Tindol. “We’re just going to come out and try and win a football game just like we have all the others. This just happens to be our first district game and it happens to be against Bangs. The kids are just hungry to get a win. We’re not looking down the road to where this might take us. It’s the first district game and I know the kids will play their hearts out to win this game. Bangs and Early is always a great contest and this will probably be no different.”
Despite Early’s winless start to the season, Bangs second-year head coach Chuck Lipsey stated the Dragons aren’t overlooking the Longhorns.
“I don’t think it matters if we’re both undefeated or if we both hadn’t won a game, it’s a competitive rivalry and I expect both teams to play as hard as they can play,” Lipsey said. “That’s what I expect from our kids and their kids. They’ve got some potential and some good athletes and are capable of having a very good football team.”
Lipsey also knows the value of a district-opening victory, and the momentum that can provide a team. The Dragons hope a win Friday will propel them to another district championship and their second straight playoff appearance.
“Any time you get first that win in what is going to be a very competitive district, it’s going to help you build momentum and get you rolling through the district race,” Lipsey said. “It’s a clean slate, we’re both going into district with no wins and no losses, and I’m sure Coach Tindol has told his team the same thing. The preseason is over and things really get started now.”
The Longhorns are looking to put a disappointing start behind them, as the games from here on out will determine the fate of Early’s season, opposed to what has happened to this point.
“We really have to put those games behind us and not dwell on them,” Tindol said. “This team needs to find an identity and hold on to it for a whole game. We’ve played good in some of our games against tough opponents and had things going our way, but we have to hold things together, keep the positive momentum going and keep the same intensity for an entire game.
“I feel like these are two are evenly matched teams who didn’t play their best football last week and are hungry to get a win.”
Bangs is coming off its first setback off the season, a 33-0 loss at No. 9 Cisco in which the Dragons turned the ball over six times. Early also clashed with Cisco in the season opener, and the Longhorns came up on the short end of a 20-7 decision.
“Looking back, if we don’t turn the ball over that much maybe it would have been different, but there’s nothing we can do about it and we have to put it behind us,” Lipsey said. “Early played Cisco to a 20-7 game and we lost to Cisco 33-0. But the first part of the season is over and we’ve got to get ready for the district race and worry about Early.”
The Longhorns dropped a 31-13 contest at Ballinger last week, a game in which Early finished with 251 yards of total offense — 130 passing and 121 rushing — but allowed 434, including 316 through the air. Early did not score after halftime, where it trailed just 14-13.
For the season, Early is averaging only 12 points per game, while allowing 24.2 per outing.
“The kids are confident in what they can do,” Tindol said. “We’ve had some times where we didn’t look good and at other times we’ve looked real good. We just need to focus on doing things the right way.”
Early is led by quarterback Ethan Horton, who has completed 41-of-93 passes for 557 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Thomas Aly has caught a team-high 11 passes for just 58 yards, while Zac Fox has emerged as a big-play threat with 10 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown. Matt Lewis has added eight catches for 79 yards, while Payton Hiltibidal has grabbed seven receptions covering 108 yards with a touchdown.
On the ground, Chase Reeves has amassed the most yards with 154 and a touchdown, while Ty New has chipped in 77 yards and one score.
“Offensively, Early has a young quarterback that has the potential to be really good,” Lipsey said. “They’ve also got good receivers and a good power game. We have to be prepared to the stop the run and pass because they will line it up and try and run over you, then spread you out and try and throw it.”
Added Tindol, “Defensively, Bangs lines up in an odd front and they have a good scheme. This is going to come down to who can move the chains, get first downs and not turn the ball over.”
Bangs counters with Tyler Fuqua at quarterback and a backfield featuring Marcus Berniard, Corey Sanchez and Devin Rowland. After a solid start to the season, Fuqua struggled in the passing game against Cisco, completing just 7-of-15 passes for 37 yards with five interceptions. Fuqua did, however, lead the team in rushing with 46 yards. Berniard chipped in 45 yards on the ground and Sanchez finished with 34.
Issac Brown recorded a team-high five receptions last week, which covered only 17 yards. The Dragons lost leading receiver Jorden Mason to an ankle injury against Cisco, and his status against Early will be a game-time decision, according to Lipsey.
For the season, Bangs is averaging 20 points per game, down from its 30 points per outing prior to last week’s shutout against Cisco.
“Offensively, Bangs has shown they can throw the ball and if you’re not paying attention they can surprise you,” Tindol said.
Added Lipsey, “We’re going to have to do a good job up front with our blocks. We’ve gotten better each week, but we have to have all five linemen blocking good the whole time. We’ve had four guys blocking good one play and one guy not doing what he’s supposed to. But we made some changes on the line, and we need that to gel.
“For us to be successful, score points and play well, we’re going to need to win the war in the trenches on both sides of the ball. We also have to eliminate the turnovers and hold on to the football. We know we can’t turn the ball over and win football games. But if we go out and execute, we’ll be fine.”
Both head coaches feel their respective teams haven’t played up to their potential for an entire game, and each believes doing so will be the key to emerge from Friday’s showdown with a 1-0 district record.
“We haven’t played four full quarters of good football this year, and Friday night would be a good night to get that started,” Lipsey said.
Added Tindol, “As of yet we haven’t played as good a game as we can play, but I’m excited for this opportunity and ready for our guys to play a full game and show people what they can do.”