EARLY — An extra day was not enough time for the Early Longhorns to put all their growing pains behind them.
Eight days after the offense sputtered in a 20-7 opening loss to Cisco, the Early defense struggled in a 32-21 setback to the Wall Hawks Saturday afternoon at Longhorn Stadium.
Early (0-2) and Wall (1-1) took the field Saturday because of the severe thunderstorms in Brown County that led to several postponements — and some cancellations — Friday night. But Longhorn head coach Robbie Tindol did not believe the altered schedule played a factor in Early’s Saturday troubles.
“Both teams had to come back today,” Tindol said. “It’s not an advantage or disadvantage, it’s just how you handle those things. Wall had to drive back home last night, so I don’t think it was a factor at all.”
Wall shredded the Early defense for 466 yards of total offense, including 339 yards rushing on 49 carries. Brent Rasberry rushed for 156 yards, while Brett Rasberry chipped in 80 yards for the Hawks. Quarterback Kyle Conaway completed 9-of-17 passes for 127 yards, and Brandon Willman grabbed four receptions for 57 yards.
On the flip side, the Longhorn offense, which produced just one touchdown a week ago, racked up 362 total yards — 201 through and air and 161 on the ground. Early rushed for just 11 yards last week.
Ethan Horton and Chase Reeves split time behind center in the second half for the Longhorns as Horton completed 12-of-27 passes for 154 yards and rushed for a team-high 49 yards. Reeves connected on 5-of-9 passes for 47 yards and added 48 on the ground.
Zac Fox finished with seven catches for 102 yards for the Longhorns.
“The offense finally started playing with some enthusiasm, gave us a chance and believed that they could (move the ball),” Tindol said.
The Longhorns found themselves down as many as 19 points, 26-7, at the 8:42 mark of the third period, but closed the gap to 26-21 with 11:29 remaining in the game.
Early was poised to possibly take the lead following a Shane Morris interception of a Conaway pass at the Early 47 with 9:57 remaining. But the Longhorns failed to pick up a first down on the possession, turning the ball back over to Wall at the Hawks’ 44 following an unsuccessful fourth-and-2 attempt.
Wall responded with a 48-yard screen pass from Conaway to Brett Rasberry on the first play of its ensuing possession, which moved the ball to the Early 8. Three plays later, at the 7:00 mark of the fourth period, Conaway scored on a 1-yard dive for the final 12-point margin.
“This was another learning experience for a new team,” Tindol said. “Some of these guys haven’t been in the fire before and been behind like this and had to come back. We knew we were close, we cut it to six, and that’s when you have to come back and pour it on.”
Trailing 14-7 at halftime, Early went three-and-out on its first possession of the third quarter, failing to convert a fourth-and-1 at its own 48.
Wall needed just four plays to advance 48 yards, highlighted by a 41-yard run from Brent Rasberry. Conaway’s 3-yard run at the 9:04 mark of the third period upped the Hawks’ lead to 20-7.
Early’s very next offensive play resulted in the Longhorns’ only turnover, as Wall scooped up a fumble on the Early 25. Two plays later, Brent Rasberry scored from 4 yards out to increase the lead to 26-7 at the 8:42 juncture.
Down three touchdowns, the Early offense finally began to show its first signs of life this season. The Longhorns marched 80 yards in six plays on their next possession, with Reeves sprinting into the end zone from 16 yards out at the 6:32 mark to cut the deficit to 26-14.
Reeves took over at quarterback after Horton was injured on the drive, which came after a 23-yard completion to Matt Lewis. Horton later returned to the game, and the duo alternated behind center the rest of the afternoon.
“Ethan is playing both sides and doing a great job, and it’s just a luxury that we’re able to turn to Chase and say go in at quarterback,” Tindol said. “Chase understands the offense and he’s a good runner with the ball in his hands. We’re trying to get Ethan as many snaps as we can and still not put him in bad situations.”
Reeves connected with Fox on an 11-yard pass on fourth-and-9 to extend the drive the play prior to his touchdown run.
Wall trekked to the Early 4 on its next possession before coughing up the ball, which led to a 12-play, 92-yard Longhorn march that closed the gap to 26-21 with 11:29 left. Fox caught passes of 12, 12 and 9 yards on the drive, which culminated with a 1-yard plunge by Ty New.
The Hawks opened the scoring at the 6:38 mark of the first period on a 14-yard pass from Conaway to Willman, which wrapped up a 12-play, 72-yard, 5:22 drive.
Early evened the score at 7-all on an 11-yard end around by Tucker King, who later left the game with an injury and did not return.
Wall reclaimed the lead, 14-7, on a 32-yard Conaway-to-Willman connection 60 seconds after the Longhorns pulled even — with 6:03 left in the first half.
The Longhorns had a chance to tie before halftime, but after advancing to the Wall 14, Early could not crack the end zone on its last three pass attempts of the half.
“We got better in certain areas today, and I told them after the game we have a long way to go, but I still believe in them,” Tindol said. “We’re not giving up the ship. We’re going to be a good football team whenever we decide to do all the right things at the right times.”
Early will hit the road for the first time next week as it ventures to Clyde (1-1), which lost the debut game in its new stadium, 34-0 to 3A Graham, Friday.
Wall 32, Early 21
Wall 7 7 12 6 - 32
Early 0 7 7 7 - 21
W: Brandon Willman 14 pass from Kyle Conaway (Willman kick), 6:38, 1st
E: Tucker King 11 run (Zac Fox kick), 7:03, 2nd
W: Willman 32 pass from Conaway (Willman kick), 6:03, 2nd
W: Conaway 3 run (kick blocked), 9:04, 3rd
W: Brent Rasberry 4 run (pass failed), 8:42, 3rd
E: Chase Reeves 16 run (Fox kick), 6:37, 3rd
E: Ty New 1 run (Fox kick), 11:29, 4th
W: Conaway 1 run (pass failed), 7:00, 4th
First downs 20 24
Total Yards 466 362
Rush-Yards 49-339 36-161
Passing yards 127 201
C-A-I 9-17-1 17-36-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 5-1
Punts-Avg. 2-25.5 2-32.5
Penalties-Yards 9-117 10-72
Rushing — W: Brent Rasberry 10-156, Brett Rasberry 14-90, Jaxon Nevins 10-28, Kyle Conaway 7-26. E: Ethan Horton 8-49, Chase Reeves 12-48, Ty New 10-26, Shane Morris 3-17.
Passing — W: Conaway 9-17-1-127. E: Horton 12-27-0-154, Reeves 5-9-0-47.
Receiving — W: Brandon Willman 4-57, Brett Rasberry 3-51, Justin Walling 2-19. E: Zac Fox 7-102, Thomas Aly 4-42, Matt Lewis 3-31, Payton Hiltibidal 3-26.