EARLY - The Early Longhorns find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they are looking up in the District 8-2A standings with a trip to undefeated Brady slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Longhorns, who have won three straight district championships and lost one league game in that span, are coming off a 29-27 home loss to Bangs in last week’s 8-2A opener. With Early (2-3, 0-1), Bangs (3-2, 1-0), Brady (4-0, 0-0) and Coleman (5-0, 1-0) expected to be the four teams competing for three playoff berths in 8-2A, Friday’s showdown is crucial for the Longhorns.
“All district games are a must-win,” said Early head coach Robbie Tindol. “We got beat last week and the kids want to go out and prove themselves again and re-establish themselves. They’ve been extremely focused at practice and they’re trying to get better. You never know what’s ahead and what the rest of the district is going to do. All we can control is lining up and playing Brady this week.”
Brady has yet to taste defeat this season and has had an additional week to prepare for the Longhorns after enjoying a bye last week. The Bulldogs, who have outscored their opponents an average of 44-13, are coming off their second-highest point output in school history in a 72-12 victory over Ozona.
“Brady’s got a good football team and they’re going to bring a lot of excitement to the game,” Tindol said. “They’re well-coached and they do things correctly. They’ve got speed and some size in some places. They can really pose a lot of problems if you’re not prepared.
“Our kids are wanting to get back on track. They have the hunger and they don’t want to be 0-2 in district. They want to make their mark, and we know Brady is a good team. All things are set up for a great football game. We just have to see who comes out and wants it the most.”
Early and Brady are familiar with each other, having scrimmaged in each of the past two seasons. That may not be as great of an advantage for the Longhorns as one might think, however, as the Bulldogs have changed offenses this year.
“They were running the spread two seasons before this one, and they were doing some of the same things last year,” Tindol said. “Now they basically run a wing-T or slot-T offense like we saw when we scrimmaged Llano. They run a lot of misdirection and try and catch you off guard. We have to be real good about reading our keys and staying home and not letting them have something that busts for a long gainer.”
The Brady offense, which averages 384.8 total yards and 262.3 rushing yards per game, is led by Prennis Williams, who has rushed for 370 yards and six touchdowns in just three games. Isiah Conrad has added 194 yards and three touchdowns, Jake Long has chipped in 94 yards and Lonnie Williams has contributed 93 yards.
Quarterback Mackenzie Hirt has proven to be a dual threat as he’s completed 26-of-30 passes for 490 yards with eight touchdowns, while rushing for 104 yards and a score.
Travis Tuckness leads all Bulldog receivers with nine catches for 173 yards with three touchdowns, while Dustin Williams has caught two passes for 79 yards and a score and Ruben Resendez has hauled in two scoring receptions totaling 70 yards.
“They’re going to make some yards in the game because they’re that good of a football team,” Tindol said. “But we need to be able to stop them when we need to, make them punt the ball and get our offense on the field.”
Early’s defense is allowing 21 points and 309.8 total yards - 203.8 rushing and 93 passing - per game. Shane Morris leads the Longhorn defense with a 35 tackles and three interceptions.
“When two teams are evenly matched, you have to play good defense,” Tindol said. “If you play good defense, that always seems to win the ball game.”
Last week against Bangs, the Longhorns allowed 198 of the Dragons’ 364 total yards in the second half.
“We had some turnovers late, but we still could have taken control of the game if we stopped them and kept them out of the end zone,” Tindol said. “We didn’t do a good job of stopping them up front, getting off our blocks or making tackles. We looked unsure of ourselves, like we didn’t know what we were supposed to do in those situations. It’s a learning process, especially when you’ve got some new kids in there that haven’t been playing in the fourth quarter.”
The Longhorns should be in better shape personnel-wise than they were at the end of the Bangs game. Nick Lyle, Collin Rome and Zach Green, who missed various amounts of time for various reasons last week, are all expected to play Friday. The only players expected to miss action are Nathan Hopkins, Cody Rasberry and Kenny Vaccaro.
Offensively, Early is looking to cut down on its turnovers as the Longhorns have given the ball away 11 times this season - an average of 2.2 per game. The Longhorns committed three of their four turnovers last week on the final three possessions.
Early is led by Lyle at quarterback, who has completed 56-of-115 passes for 975 yards with six touchdowns and seven interceptions. Cody Bullard leads all receivers with 26 catches for 573 yards, while Seth Coolbaugh has added 14 catches for 128 yards with three touchdowns. Sean Aly is also a threat at receiver with seven catches for 110 yards and two scores.
Rome continues to lead the ground game with 293 yards and six touchdowns on 36 carries, while Green has contributed 116 yards and three scores on 26 carries. Other Longhorns to carry the ball last week included Morris, Riley Cason and Chase Reeves.
The Longhorns could have their hands full with a Brady defense that held Ozona to negative (-) 40 yards rushing in its last outing.
“They basically run a split defense with a cover three secondary, but they have the capabilities to change their front and coverages,” Tindol said. “They play very little straight up technique defense and they fly to the football.
“Offensively, we’re going to do the same things we’ve always done. We have built in things to do to certain people that run man or a zone, depending on what kind of zone they give you. We’ve been running the same plays for the six years I’ve been here. Nothing is going to change, we’re just going to try and execute better.”