There may not be a second chance to make a first impression, but the two remaining playoff teams from Brown County can certainly leave lasting ones in their playoff rematches Friday night.
Both the Early Longhorns (9-3) and the Zephyr Bulldogs (8-3) have opportunities to avenge season-ending losses in the third round of the playoffs.
Early will face the Littlefield Wildcats (10-2) for the Division I-2A Region I championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Midland’s Grande Communications Stadium. Littlefield came away with a 33-28 win in Sweetwater last year, site of the Longhorns’ 24-12 victory over Kermit Friday.
Zephyr — which was ranked No. 9 in Division II by sixmanfootball.com in its final regular season poll — is headed to Comanche at 7 p.m. Friday to face the No. 8 Gustine Tigers (9-3) in the Six-Man Division II Region IV championship game. Gustine’s 56-14 victory at the same location a year ago halted the Bulldogs’ postseason march.
In the other local postseason rematch this week, the No. 2 Richland Springs Coyotes (11-0) will battle the No. 3 Calvert Trojans (12-0) for the Six-Man Division I Region IV championship. The defending state champion Coyotes knocked off the Trojans, 52-14, last year en route to their second state title in three seasons.
The Longhorns carry a nine-game win streak in Friday’s contest and have shown noticeable improvement each week.
If defense does indeed still win championships, Early appears to be headed in the right direction. Through two playoff games, the Longhorns are allowing just 13 points per contest, which is an improvement over the impressive 17.3 points per game they surrendered during the regular season.
Early actually gave up fewer points and yards in the second round of the playoffs, allowing two less points and 29 fewer yards to a Kermit team that was clearly better than the Merkel squad it faced two weeks ago.
The Longhorns have also forced five turnovers in two playoff games, giving them 27 takeaways in 12 games — an average of 2.3 per contest.
A defense that gave up an average of 207 yards on the ground per game during the regular season surrendered a combined 213 yards rushing against run-happy Kermit and Merkel. Early should receive a much stiffer challenge from Littlefield, however, as the Wildcats ran for 309 yards a year ago.
Offensively, the Longhorns’ diversity has given their first two playoff foes fits. Early is cruising along at a 40 points per game clip in the postseason, and the Longhorns have finished with 405 and 404 yards of total offense, respectively, in each playoff game.
Early followed last week’s 276 yards on the ground with a 239-yard rushing outing against Kermit. Bo Ross and Collin Rome both eclipsed the 100-yard mark Friday, as Ross ran for 141 yards and a 19-yard touchdown, while Rome chipped in 110 yards and a 52-yard scoring scamper. In two playoff games, three different Early players have rushed for over 100 yards.
Nick Lyle added another steady performance through the air as he followed his 124-yard, one-touchdown outing last week with 165 yards and a 34-yard scoring toss to Seth Coolbaugh. For the second week in a row, seven Longhorns caught at least one pass, with Cody Bullard leading the way with three catches for 27 yards.
The Longhorns did turn the ball over twice against Kermit and that will be an area Early must improve to have a chance against Littlefield. A pair of first-half turnovers resulted in a 14-0 halftime deficit against the Wildcats last year.
For Zephyr, its offense continues to fire on all cylinders, which has been the key to its seven-game winning streak.
The Bulldogs put up a season-high 90 points and 637 yards of total offense against Iredell, which was allowing 40 points per contest. Zephyr racked up 391 yards rushing and passed for 246 yards.
Jason Hughes rushed for 159 yards and scored on runs of 6, 33 and 65 yards. Hughes also completed 4-of-13 passes for 113 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Cord Biddy added 143 yards on the ground and touchdown runs of 35, 38 and 42 yards. Biddy also caught a team-high four passes for 148 yards with three scoring receptions of 64, 53 and 9 yards.
Chris Newton chipped in a 3-of-5 passing effort for 133 yards. All three of his completions were for touchdowns, covering 60, 64, and 9 yards.
Luke Creed finished with three catches for 88 yards, including touchdown grabs of 60 and 20 yards.
Defensively, Biddy led the Bulldogs with 25 tackles, followed by 16 from Taylor Hart, 15 from Chase Jackson, 14 from Ryan Martin and 13 from Hughes, who intercepted two passes and returned one 68 yards for a touchdown.
Gustine is coming off a 70-64 Thanksgiving win over Lohn. The Tigers needed a dropped pass in the end zone in the closing seconds to hang on for the victory. Zephyr defeated Lohn, 73-26, in district action.
In other games against common opponents, Zephyr beat Mullin 78-32, while Gustine recorded a 60-12 victory; the Bulldogs took care of Cherokee, 58-38, while the Tigers did the same, 60-14; and Zephyr ended Iredell’s season, 90-56, while Gustine defeated the Dragons for the District 15 title, 75-28.
Winners of 25 straight games, the Richland Springs Coyotes needed just 2 1/2 quarters to record a season-high 93 points and 12 touchdowns — including 11 on offense — during Friday’s 50-point victory over May.
The Coyotes finished with 350 yards of total offense against May — 220 passing and 130 on the ground.
Tyler Ethridge completed 12-of-15 passes with five touchdowns — giving him 220 for his career, which is also the number of yards he passed for Friday night. Ethridge also rushed the ball for 71 yards and three scores and added an 8-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Ethridge’s fumble return was one of four turnovers forced by the Richland Springs defense — including a pair of Andrew Fowler interceptions. Though the Coyotes allowed the most points they have all season, they were able to turn May’s mistakes into 32 points.
Calvert shut out Blanket, 58-0, Friday night and the Trojans also have a 64-35 playoff victory over Rochelle. Rochelle finished second to Richland Springs in District 15, and the Coyotes picked up a 60-14 victory over the Hornets in the regular season finale.
The Trojans entered Friday’s game against Blanket averaging 58.2 points per game while allowing just 13.2. Only two of Calvert’s games have gone the distance — last week’s playoff win over Rochelle and an 85-68 victory over No. 9 Trinidad.