BANGS - Last week, the Bangs Dragons earned their most important victory since 2005’s bi-district championship win when they knocked off the Early Longhorns, 29-27, to grab a share of the District 8-2A lead.
The Dragons (3-2, 1-0) must now shift their focus to remaining atop the district standings as even bigger games await - starting with Friday’s 7:30 p.m. first-place showdown with the San Saba Armadillos (2-3, 1-0) at Dragon Memorial Stadium.
“During the team meeting this week when we went over the scouting report I told them that they’d done a good thing, and they need to be proud of that, but it’s my job and their job to keep playing with the intensity we played with against Early and carry that over to San Saba Friday night,” said Bangs first-year head coach Chuck Lipsey.
The Dragons scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and forced turnovers on each of Early’s final three possessions to snatch the victory last week. Playing hard for four quarters is a mindset Lipsey has attempted to instill in the program since the season opener, and never did it pay greater dividends than in the district opener.
“You always want to get off to a good start, but we proved last week even if you don’t get off to a good start if your kids hang in there and believe in what you’re doing, it’s going to pay off,” Lipsey said. “I want us to keep playing with the same intensity we played with last week and play hard for four quarters. I think that really paid off last week.”
The Dragons aren’t the only team riding a wave of positive momentum into Friday’s game. The Armadillos are coming off back-to-back wins (35-7 over Johnson City and 24-6 over Dublin) for the first time since the 2003 season, the last year San Saba made the playoffs. San Saba’s two wins already equal the most in a season since the 2003 campaign as the Armadillos continue their pursuit of just their second winning season since 1994.
“They have some momentum coming in and they’re 1-0 in district just like we are,” Lipsey said. “They have a good team and if you’re not ready to play Friday night they could slip up on you and beat you. That’s what we can’t let happen.”
During San Saba’s two-game win streak, the Armadillo defense has allowed just 179 yards of total offense per game, surrendered one touchdown and forced three turnovers.
“They’ve done a good job on defense and they’re very sound,” Lipsey said. “They like to stunt a lot, so a key for us will be picking up their stunts.”
Offensively, the Armadillos are averaging 330 total yards, including 299 yards on the ground. In San Saba’s win over Dublin, Jack Whitten rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns, while Gary Gant picked up 211 yards and four touchdowns against Johnson City.
Ryan Plumley caught a touchdown pass in each game, one for 91 yards and one covering 18.
“They’ve got some quickness, but their backs are not real big,” Lipsey said. “They’re mostly an I-pro team that runs a lot of leads and sweeps and their line does a good job blocking. We have to make sure we get people on them and get them wrapped up.”
The Dragons did an excellent job slowing down Early’s normally high-powered attack in the second half last week. Of the 242 total yards Early earned, just 70 came after halftime. After the Longhorns scored their final touchdown, Bangs held the Early offense to negative (-) 1 yard on its last four possessions, three of which ended in turnovers - interceptions by Grant Bear and Bradley Lee, along with a Cody Cross fumble recovery.
“Turnovers are huge, especially when you’re in a tight ball game,” Lipsey said. “You can’t turn the ball over against good teams. That’s a big momentum shift. That was a key to victory last Friday night and it needs to be a key to victory again this Friday night.”
Offensively, the Dragons’ run game got stronger as the game wore on. Bangs finished with 279 of its 364 total yards on the ground, and four different Dragons rushed for over 50 yards.
Michael Peters led the rushing attack with 87 yards and a touchdown, DeShawn Johnson added 75 yards and a score, Lee finished with 56 yards rushing and a touchdown and Bear chipped in 55 yards on just three carries.
Despite the Dragons’ success on the ground, Lipsey and company still plan to mix up the offense. Bangs completed 7-of-17 passes for 75 yards with two interceptions and a 4-yard touchdown grab by Cross last week.
“We still have to mix it up and take what the defense gives you,” Lipsey said. “If they are going to load up to stop the run, we have to be able to get the ball to the perimeter quick and throw the ball around. We made some changes in the backfield last week, put our big backs in and we were able to run to downhill. You have to give a lot of the credit to the offensive line and fullback.”
Though the Dragons are coming off a huge win, there is still plenty of room for improvement. Bangs was flagged 12 times for 113 yards last week and had a pair of touchdowns nullified due to penalties. The Dragons also turned the ball over three times, but none in the fourth period.
“We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’re getting better each week and that’s a good thing,” Lipsey said. “It was a big win last week, but when you go back and look at the film you see some things you didn’t do very good. We just need to keep getting better in all three phases of the game and play with the same intensity and excitement we did last week. If we do that, we’ll be in good shape.”