EARLY — The Early Longhorns are 1-0 where it matters most.

Early beat the Jim Ned Indians, 21-6, Friday night at McDonald Field as Collin Rome rushed for 174 yards and a touchdown and John Moore returned an interception for the clinching score.

The win in the District 6-2A opener erased an 0-3 start by the Longhorns, who played state-ranked Cisco, perennial playoff qualifier Crawford and Class 3A Clyde in non-district games.

“I think the tough schedule has paid off,” said Early coach Robbie Tindol, whose Longhorns were Class 2A Division I state semifinalists in 2005 and quarterfinalists last year. “Our kids had been in some tough games. Jim Ned had run the ball well this year and we were able to contain them for the most part. Offensively, we were able to run and block. It was a good test for us.”

Jim Ned is in just the opposite position of Early. The Indians were 3-0 in non-district but now are 0-1 in 6-2A.

Early came in allowing 29 points and 385 yards per game, but the Longhorns’ defense limited the Indians to 170 total yards and a single touchdown.

“We had two weeks to prepare for them,” said Moore, a cornerback whose 36-yard interception return with 5:54 to play gave Early a 21-6 lead and secured the Longhorns’ first win this season. “We just worked harder at it. We had to get our minds right.

“We’re 1-0. We’re on top of the hill looking down.”

On Moore’s clinching play, it appeared Jim Ned quarterback Jordan Coffman wanted to run. But after being penned in by two Early defenders, Coffman tried to throw a last-second pass that went right to Moore, who darted down the sideline for an easy score.

“The ball was wobbly, and I didn’t know if I could catch it or not,” Moore said. “Once I did, it was off to the races.”

Jim Ned coach Walter Hargrove said, “He (Coffman) was going run, but he got in trouble and tried to flip it to somebody. But he flipped it to the wrong somebody. He was just trying to make a play.”

Coffman managed 82 yards on 17 carries, but Early’s defense limited the Indians’ two running backs, Hayden Holson and Joseph Mayfield, to a combined 61 yards on 18 carries. Mayfield scored Jim Ned’s touchdown on a 9-yard run in the second quarter that pulled with Indians within 7-6.

“Our defense has kept getting better and better,” Tindol said. “We were able to play some of our players one way and that helped. I could care less how many yards we had been giving up or what our stats were. We were just trying to win a game.”

The Indians’ offense held the ball for most of the third quarter, but managed only 60 yards and couldn’t close a 14-6 deficit.

“We moved the ball there in the third quarter, but we couldn’t finish it,” Hargrove said. “We had that touchdown called back, and that kind of took the wind out of us. That was a big play in the game.”

On the play Hargrove mentioned — a fourth-and-4 from the Early 25-yard line — Taylor Cain moved to quarterback and threw a lob pass to Coffman. However, Coffman was called for offensive pass interference, and the Indians ended up punting.

Rome, whose 11-yard scoring run in the second quarter staked Early to a 14-6 halftime lead, gave an indication of how his night would go when he broke for a 52-yard run on the second play from scrimmage. Four plays later — on fourth-and-4 from the Indians’ 9 — Nick Lyle threw a 9-yard scoring pass to Austin Cochran, giving the Longhorns a 7-0 lead only 2:46 into the game.

With the game settling into a defensive struggle, Early played it safe in the second half and relied on its running game of Rome and Bo Ross, who added 62 yards on 10 carries. Lyle didn’t attempt a pass after halftime.

“Our offensive line was handling people and creating some holes, and we didn’t want to go away from that,” Tindol said.