SAN SABA — It took the Early offense a while to get started, but the defensive performance gave them plenty of opportunities to get things rolling, as the Longhorns thumped San Saba, 41-2, on Friday night at Rogan Field.
“This was a great defensive win,” said Early head coach Kent Hawthorne. “Our defense kept us in the game early, kept giving us the ball. We kept making mistakes on offense, but we’ll solve those problems. A lot of it was just ‘lazy feet’ and holding on to people. We have not practiced on grass this year and we kept hanging the ball up on snaps, and it hurt us. … The deal is the kids want to, they want to get better and they’re playing hard and they want to fix it, and we’ll get better.”
After winning the opening toss, the Longhorns (1-0, 0-0) looked to strike early.
On the first play from scrimmage quarterback Christopher Johnston’s long pass down the sideline was picked off by the Armadillos (0-1, 0-0) at their own 15.
In spite of that huge momentum shift, the Longhorn’s defense forced a fourth down and a punting situation that gave the offense great field position at the Early 47.
Again the offense stumbled, this time it was a motion penalty and a snap over the head of Johnston for a loss. Facing third and 19, Johnston hit Abel Hernandez in full stride for a 62-yard touchdown strike with 9:15 to play in the first quarter.
Austin Simpson tacked on the PAT and the ‘Horns led 7-0.
The Armadillo’s next offensive series netted minus 6 yards and once again the ‘Horns’ offense took over at their own 48.
Tough running up the middle and a short pass to Hernandez moved the ball into San Saba territory, but holding penalties and a quarterback sack would eventually force the ball over on downs.
This time it would take only 2 snaps for the Longhorns’ defense to get the ball back, when defensive linemen Grayson Ebarb and Landon Beck disrupted a screen pass with Beck intercepting the ball at the San Saba 23.
Once again, the offense sputtered and the ball was turned over on downs to the ‘Dillos.
From their own 28, San Saba was only able to earn one yard and punted the ball back to the ‘Horns, who then set up offense at their own 40.
After picking up two first downs, a holding penalty and incompletes passes forced the Horns in to a fourth and 20, where Johnston’s pass near the goal line on was intercepted. But a quick tackle by Riley Mitchell pinned the Armadillos at their own 6.
Early’s defense was again up to the challenge, forcing San Saba to punt and taking over at the Armadillos 30.
Early took full advantage, driving the 30 yards on nine plays, the final play culminating in a quarterback sneak from Johnson to put the Longhorns in the end zone again. The kick was good and Early led 14-0 with just over three minutes to play in the first half.
San Saba busted the shutout bid with a safety just before the end of the first half.
“We challenged them at halftime to solve these problems and we told them what we’ve got to do, and they came back and did exactly what we said we were gonna do,” Hawthorne said. “I’m very proud of that.”
Early came out in the second half and used their defense to continue to keep San Saba out of the end zone.
On offense, the Longhorns picked up the pace.
Early scored on Johnston to Mitchell 22-yard strike, but a missed point after attempt left the lead at 20-2.
The Longhorns got a 2-yard touchdown run from Espinosa and a 9-yard scamper for six from Cojo Guidry, as well as a two-point conversion on a pass from Johnston to Martinez. Early added a 1-yard touchdown plunge for Joaquin Pessina to cap off the scoring and give the Longhorns the 39-point margin of victory.
The defense finished the night with five turnovers — three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
The Longhorns will be back in action next Friday when they go on the road to face Brock.