EARLY — Coming off perhaps their best showing of the season, the Early Longhorns are hoping to build on last week’s near-miss 21-15 loss at Bangs as they continue their pursuit not only of their first win of the season, but their fifth straight trip to the playoffs as well.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Longhorns (0-5, 0-1) in the second week of District 8-2A action as they draw the undefeated Brady Bulldogs (4-0, 0-0) for homecoming.

Early head coach Robbie Tindol — who was unavailable for Wednesday’s weekly interview — stated following Friday’s game with Bangs that the Longhorns were continuing to make solid strides, though the results on the scoreboard unfortunately remain unchanged.

“We’re getting better every week,” Tindol said. “We’re still a young football team but we’re learning in a hurry. One game doesn’t make or break you, and we have a chance to line up next week and do our thing and get a win under our belts.”

The Longhorn defense performed well enough to earn a victory last week as Early yielded just 194 yards of total offense — 141 passing and 53 rushing — against the defending 8-2A champion Dragons.

Early’s defense — led by Shane Morris (47 tackles, one interception) and Blanton Bowen (31 tackles) — will face a significantly tougher challenge from Brady, which rushes for 310 of its average of 375 total yards per outing. Against Wall in the season opener — a 41-9 Brady victory — the Bulldogs piled up 415 yards on the ground.

Brady’s run game is anchored by Jose Ramirez, who has rushed for at least 85 yards in three of the Bulldogs’ four games, with his best efforts being performances of 150 and 114 yards. Jake Long has rushed for 97 and 83 yards in a pair of games as well.

When the Bulldogs go to the air, Mackenzie Hirt is in charge of the passing attack as he has completed 17-of-26 attempts for 261 yards — an average of 65 yards passing per game. Kyle Andrews is the top receiving threat for Brady, having caught three passes in a game on two separate occasions.

The key to success for the Longhorns will obviously be containing the Bulldogs’ ground game and forcing Brady into passing situations.

On the flip side of the ball, the Early offense struggled again last week at Bangs, mustering 215 total yards — 167 through the air and 48 on the ground — while turning the ball over three times. For the season, Early is averaging just 12.6 points and 223.8 total yards — 154 passing and 69.8 rushing — per game.

Chase Reeves continues to be the “go to player” for the Early offense, as he caught a 36-yard touchdown pass right before halftime last week. For the season, Reeves has rushed for a team-high 185 yards and a touchdown, caught five passes for 84 yards and a score and completed 10-of-20 passes for 89 yards.

Quarterback Ethan Horton has completed 48-of-115 passes for 685 yards with four TDs and five interceptions. Thomas Aly leads the receiving corps with 14 catches for 91 yards, followed by Zac Fox with 10 catches for 190 yards and a TD, Payton Hiltibidal with nine receptions covering 124 yards with a score and Matt Lewis with nine catches for 90 yards.

Ty New has chipped in 79 yards rushing and a pair touchdowns on the ground, including a 2-yarder last week, on 21 carries.

The Brady defense, meanwhile, showed its first signs of vulnerability against Ozona in a 36-27 win two weeks ago. Prior to that outing, the Bulldogs — who opened district play with a bye — had surrendered a total of 26 points in their first three games.

For the season, Brady allows 13.3 points and 232.8 total yards per game.

Tindol did feel Early put together its most impressive drive of the season when it marched 65 yards in 14 plays resulting in New’s 2-yard touchdown run to cut Bangs’ lead to 21-15 with 4:27 remaining.

“Everybody was in rhythm and in sync that drive,” Tindol said. “That’s what we can do whenever everybody has the same state of mind and is focused.”

If the Longhorns find that rhythm again, they could pull off the early surprise of the 8-2A schedule and jump start their bid for another trip to the postseason. A loss Friday and an 0-2 start in district play could force the Longhorns into must-win situations during the final four games to have any shot at reaching the playoffs.