EARLY — The Early Longhorns have already faced one member of the Associated Press Class 2A Top 5 in the Cisco Loboes, and will challenge another Friday when head coach Kent Hawthorne’s squad hits the road to battle the No. 3 Wall Hawks.
Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday.
With two District 3-2A Division I games remaining, league unbeatens Wall (7-0, 3-0) and Comfort (5-2, 3-0) stand between the Longhorns (4-4, 2-2) and their first postseason berth since 2008. But Hawthorne and the Longhorns aren’t spending a lot of time talking about the postseason race.
“We’re just telling the kids to play football, have fun, make memories and whatever happens, happens,” Hawthorne said. “Go out and play and enjoy it. Ten years from now I want to be able to look them in the eye and say, ‘You gave your best and I appreciate that.’ I just want them to show up and play their hearts out. That’s all I can ask them to do.”
Early is coming off a 35-18 loss to Bangs, a game in which the Longhorns cut a 19-point deficit to one by halftime, but could not carry that momentum into the second half.
“The second half we kicked the ball to them and stopped them, then we got the ball and on second down threw a screen pass to the sideline,” Hawthorne said. “We were tackled, on the ground. When the kid rolled over the ball came out and they called it a fumble. They went down and scored and made it 25-18 and we lost the momentum. Momentum is a tough thing. We had it in the second quarter and went down and scored, bang, bang, bang. Losing that fumble, or not fumble, hurt us bad. Not taking anything away from Bangs, they played well, but if you look at the momentum, it’s tough to get it back.”
Though the Longhorns were unable to come away with a victory, both Hawthorne and Bangs head coach Chuck Lipsey raved about the defensive performance of Landon Beck following the game.
“He played a crazy game with nine tackles for loss, a fumble caused, a fumble recovery and he played nose guard, defensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker,” Hawthorne said. “People all year long have been running away from him, seeing where he gets set and calling an audible at the line. He’s been frustrated having to play from the backside, so we moved him to the middle of the field and he had a heck of a game. It’s our fault as coaches for not being smart enough to move him earlier in the season because he wrecked shop. He’ll probably play a little nose guard again this week and hopefully he’s just as productive.”
Slowing down Wall, however, will be a monumental task as the Hawks average 49 points per game and have scored at least 35 in every contest this season. The only team to threaten Wall all season was Class 3A Sweetwater, which was still a 42-28 victory for the Hawks.
In that contest, Wall jumped out to a 28-14 halftime lead over Sweetwater thanks to a 22-point second period. Quarterback Luke Dacy rushed for 133 yards and four touchdowns, while Brent Matschek chipped in 133 yards and another touchdown. Clint Masters tacked on 69 yards and a score and Kris Gutierrez rushed for 43 yards out of the Hawks’ ground-based attack.
Defensively, Wall gives up just 12 points per game on average and no team other than Sweetwater has eclipsed 14 points against the Hawks.
“Wall is good, we know they’re good, and they had an off week to get healthy and get hungry again,” Hawthorne said. “We’re just going to do what we do and try and get a little better at it. You can sit around all weekend trying to come up with a plan, but the deal is we’ve been working on this offense since the beginning of August and we’re still not where we want to be. Why jump on something new with only three or four days to practice it and expect it to be great?”
The Early offense produces 23 points and 411 yards — 231 rushing and 180 passing — per outing, but generated only 237 yards — including 34 yards rushing on 30 carries — last week against Bangs.
Early’s defense is giving up 32 points per game on average and last week against the Dragons surrendered 409 yards — 229 through the air and 180 on the ground.
The Longhorns are led offensively by quarterback Bubba Reno (113 of 188, 11 TDs, 1,320 yards; 142 rushing yards), Leonel Espinosa (468 rushing yards, TD), Chris Johnston (25-356, 5 TDs receiving), Nick Alcorta (20-422, 4 TDs receiving; 50 yards, TD rushing), Kellan Jackson (20-200, TD receiving; 40 yards, TD rushing), and Colin Walker (7-44, TD receiving).
Defensive standouts for Early include Cody Morrison (75 tackles), Jackson (51 tackles), Beck (47 tackles), Raymond Weckwerth (38 tackles), Charlie Tongate (32 tackles), Alcorta (31 tackles) and Walker (30 tackles).