EARLY — In Week 0, one half is all that stood between the Early Longhorns and victory. Last week, it was a single quarter. With the start of District 6-2A play commencing before the end of the month, the Longhorns are anxious to snap their two-game skid and establish some positive momentum.
Enter the Clyde Bulldogs, who fell to Early by a 23-6 count last year. But just as the Longhorns (0-2) aren’t the same team that graced the gridiron a year ago, neither is Clyde (1-1). The Bulldogs are coming off a close 12-0 loss to Graham, the No. 9 team in Class 3A, and they own a 32-7 victory over District 6-2A member Ballinger.
“The kids know by playing good teams we’re going to get better, but we need to figure out how to win, too,” said Early head coach Robbie Tindol. “Clyde’s a hard-nosed, smash-mouth football team that’s trying to find their identity. They’ve been in a win and a loss and they’re going to be hungry to get back in the win column. I hope our guys are a little hungrier and want it more than Clyde does.”
With a bye next week and the District 6-2A opener against Jim Ned set for Sept. 28, the Longhorns are determined they won’t be dwelling over an 0-3 start for the next two weeks.
“We need to get on a roll,” Tindol said. “When you’re sitting there 0-2, every game is your next important game. This week Clyde is our big game. We’re going over to their place and playing them on their turf and trying to come away with a victory. It’s paramount on our guys’ minds. It’s what they want to do and expect to do. We need to get back on a winning track and right now we’re just focusing on Clyde and getting one in the win column. We want to be tuned up and ready to go for district coming out of this ball game.”
Despite their winless start, the Longhorns have played solid football in spurts. Early held No. 2 Cisco scoreless for a half and to a single touchdown through three quarters in a season-opening 20-9 loss. Last week at Crawford, the Longhorns took a three-point lead into the fourth period before surrendering three late touchdowns in a 34-17 defeat.
“We’re playing good football, we’re just not playing good football on every snap,” Tindol said. “The game can be won or lost in a few plays if you don’t play well for those few plays. We’ve had some letdowns and some mental breakdowns and we didn’t play good at times. Against good teams that will cost you.”
Positives to build on are not hard to come by, especially on offense. The Longhorns almost doubled their point total and increased their total yardage output from 267 yards to 354 yards last week.
Early quarterback Nick Lyle, in his first outing of the season, completed 14-of-29 passes for 167 yards, while Collin Rome racked up 206 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
“Offensively, we moved the ball and had a lot of yards, but we didn’t come up with two touchdowns,” Tindol said. “We need to be more productive if we’re moving the ball like that.”
The Longhorns finished with 187 yards as a team on the ground after mustering just 82 yards in their first game.
“Some of that is attributed to Nick making good decisions and pulling the ball down and taking off and turning a play into a plus,” Tindol said. “Some of it was Collin being in a little bit better shape. He cramped up a little earlier. We also moved some people around in our offensive line.
“When you’re able to throw the ball more often and more effectively, that always adds to your ground game. Our receivers were getting open and catching the ball and that makes it hard to play against our one-back set when we’re having success throwing the football.”
The Longhorns may be facing their stiffest defensive challenge yet, however, as Clyde has allowed just 19 points in two games. The Bulldogs forced two Graham turnovers and held the Steers scoreless in the first half last week. Graham finished with just 231 yards of total offense.
Against Ballinger, Clyde surrendered only 217 total yards and one touchdown while forcing a pair of turnovers.
“Defensively, they run a 3-3 stack and they have the type of defense that’s going to move people around a lot to put pressure on you and bring pressure from different spots,” Tindol said. “A team that throws the ball like we do, it’s going to be pretty important that we have our protection down and give ourselves time to throw the football.
“They’ve also got some speed on defense and that always makes for a good defensive unit. They play aggressive, but we think we can exploit some of the holes they have and maybe take away some of their aggressiveness by running the football at them.”
The Early defense, which has allowed 34 of its 54 points in the fourth quarter, will be facing one of the premier backs in the area, who seems to get stronger as the game progresses.
Clyde’s Curtis Kevil rushed for 161 yards and two touchdowns against Ballinger, and reeled off 110 yards against Graham.
“Their main weapon is the Kevil kid at tailback,” Tindol said. “He’s a big, strong kid and we have to hit him and get him down before he gets going. We have to try and stop him at the line of scrimmage as much as possible before he gets up a head of steam.”
LONGHORN FOOTBALL — Early (0-2) at Clyde (1-1), 7:30 p.m. Friday — Bulldog Stadium. 2006 Result: Early 23, Clyde 6