EARLY — With the start of District 8-2A action right around the corner, the Early Longhorns are hoping to end a four-game losing streak that dates back to last season and pick up their first victory of 2009 against the Ballinger Bearcats at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“We’ve come a long way in three games, but we still have a long way to go,” said Early head coach Robbie Tindol. “Any time you can get a win when you haven’t won is great, but it doesn’t ensure anything once you get into district play. The season goes one week at a time and district will take care of itself. The kids have their heads on straight and they know what they’re facing, we just have to try and get ourselves better every week. That’s what we’ve been talking about for four weeks now.”
The Longhorns (0-3) and Bearcats (1-2) have one foe in common this season — No. 9 Cisco. Early dropped a 20-7 home decision to the Loboes in the season opener, while Ballinger was handed a 58-35 loss last week.
“Ballinger has shown that it can score a lot of points and give up a lot of points, so we’ll see what kind of problems that poses for us offensively and defensively,” Tindol said.
Through the first three games of the season, the Longhorns have rotated between solid defensive and offensive performances. Early has twice scored just seven points in a game, yet given up no more than 20 in either contest. In the one game the Longhorns tallied 21 points, they surrendered 32.
“We haven’t put together a whole game yet,” Tindol said. “Our kids were proud of their effort last week, but also disappointed in the score. They wanted to get back on the field as soon as the game was over. They’re hungry for a win this week and are anxious to get back out on the field and get a win under our belts.”
Early is coming off a 14-7 loss at Clyde, as the Longhorns mustered just 162 yards of total offense — including 51 yards rushing on 26 carries. Chase Reeves rushed for 38 yards, while Austin Baugh added 23 in his first action of the season.
Through the air, the Longhorns completed 7-of-20 pass attempts for 111 yards. Ethan Horton completed just 6-of-18 passes for 108 yards with a 69-yard touchdown pass to Zac Fox.
Early is facing a Ballinger defense that was shredded for 548 yards and 13.7 yards per play against Cisco. For the season, the Bearcats have surrendered 37.3 points and 411.3 yards per game.
But Tindol wants to see the Longhorn offense focus more on execution than who is lining up on the other side of the ball.
“I want our kids to finally start learning to execute and get into the mindset that it doesn’t matter what the other team does, it matters more about how we execute ourselves,” Tindol said. “We haven’t learned that lesson yet. We can’t do anything about who they have playing, what we can do something about is who we’re going to line up and play with. I want our kids to get that kind of a mentality going into the games, but it’s taking a little while.”
On the other side of the ball, the Early defense gave up 327 total yards last week, and 306 on the ground. The Longhorn pass defense will get its first true test Friday as Cisco, Wall and Clyde are not known for their aerial attacks.
Ballinger is averaging 29 points and 377.3 total yards per game — with 243.7 of those yards coming through the air. Quarterback A.J. Keesee completed 23-of-34 passes for 316 yards with a pair of touchdowns against Cisco last week, and for the season he has connected on 54-of-82 attempts for 703 yards and eight touchdowns.
“They’ve got an offense that tries to make big plays,” Tindol said. “They throw the ball well, the quarterback has a good arm, and they have good receivers. Hopefully we can keep the ball away from their receivers and limit their possessions and do the things that we want to do.
“Our defense is coming around, coming into its own, playing stingy and playing with some pride. We’ll see what kind of game this turns out to be. We definitely have to get started on the right foot.”