EARLY — In their final tune up for District 3-3A Division I action, the Early Longhorns will attempt to put the results of the last two weeks behind them as they welcome the Hawley Bearcats at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Early (1-2), searching for its first home victory, is coming off back-to-back losses against Brock (47-6) and Coleman (48-14), after opening the season with a 41-2 road win over San Saba.
Hawley (1-2) has mirrored Early’s start with a 46-14 victory over Roscoe in its opener, trailed by losses of 50-14 to Coleman and 34-15 to Hamlin last week.
In last week’s loss to Coleman, Early jumped out to a 14-0 lead, but found itself down by a touchdown at halftime and couldn’t recover over the final two periods. The Longhorns finished with 256 yards and scored a special teams touchdown, but surrendered 400 yards and a special teams score.
“It was a tale of two different teams,” Early head coach Kent Hawthorne said of last week’s performance. “I was so disappointed because we did so many good things. We had momentum … the momentum swung and we couldn’t get it back. Coleman has a good football team, but I don’t think Coleman beat us as much as we beat ourselves. A good football team like them causes teams like us to look bad, and that’s what happened. I really felt like if we could have kept the momentum, kept things going, it would have been a different ball game. Once it flipped, we couldn’t get it back.
“It was real disheartening and very disappointing, but we have to get over it. We have Hawley coming to town and we can’t have that same performance, we just can’t.”
When Hawley played Coleman two weeks ago, the Bearcats trailed just 7-6 after one quarter, but yielded 23 points in the second period and 20 more in the third period before lighting up the scoreboard again.
Coleman racked up 629 yards — 437 rushing and 129 passing — while Hawley finished with 336 yards — 194 on the ground and 142 through the air.
Rex Wyatt played quarterback for Hawley against Coleman, however, Quay Stokes lined up behind center last week against undefeated Hamlin, completing 14 of 28 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown.
For the season, Wyatt has completed 17 of 35 passes for 303 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, while rushing for 145 yards and a score. Calvin Seago has rushed for a team-high 375 yards and two scores, while leading receivers for Hawley include Colton Stoker (15-290, 3 TDs) and Juan Burns (9-93, TD).
Hawley is producing 25 points and 390 yards — 234 rushing and 156 passing — on average.
“Hawley has a good passing game and they like to spread you out,” Hawthorne said. “(Stoker) has good hands, runs good routes, and their quarterback throws a pretty good ball. They like to hit you hard at first, pick up some first downs, then try and put you away. They run that freeze every chance they can and we’re not real disciplined. We jumped offsides a lot against Coleman so we’ve been really practicing that hard. We have to watch the ball, don’t listen to the count.”
Early counters with a defense that is yielding 32 points and 302 yards — 234 rushing and 68 passing — per game. Leading the way for the Longhorns have been Grant Fanara (33 tackles, interception, fumble return for a touchdown), Cojo Guidry (25 tackles, one sack), Landon Beck (24 tackles, two for loss, half a sack, one interception), Ryan Martinez (20 tackles), Raymond Weckwerth (18 tackles, half a sack), Bubba Reynolds (17 tackles, half a sack), Leland Harris (17 tackles), Hunter Ferguson (16 tackles), Wyatt Rose (14 tackles) and Isaac Martin (13 tackles).
“Defensively we went backwards a little bit against Coleman,” Hawthorne said. “We started using the olé technique, stepping to the side, running around blocks and arm tackling. Those are things we did last year and we reverted back to old habits, so we’ve gone back to basics this week and are doing things right. Defense is something I felt we could hang our hat on, but we’ve had to move some kids around. Against Brock we were outmanned three to one at times, that was a scheme thing. Last week was just bad fundamentals, we digressed.”
While Early is averaging 20 points per game, the offense is manufacturing just 211 yards — 111 on the ground and 100 through the air — on average. Hawthorne did see progression with a reshuffled line last week, but acknowledged there’s still plenty of room for improvement overall offensively.
“The movement of the line was better,” Hawthorne said. “We only had a couple of bad snaps and we still jumped a couple of times, but it was a lot better than it was. And they will continue to get better as they get used to their new positions.
“We’re going to start using Riley Mitchell a little bit more at quarterback. Chris Johnston is a really good receiver and we’re down a couple of kids there, so this allows us to get both athletes on the field at positions where we need them.”
Johnston has connected on 10 of 33 passes for 180 yards with three touchdowns and two touchdowns, while Mitchell is 7 of 13 for 120 yards.
On the ground, Leonel Espinosa leads the way with 168 yards and a touchdown trailed by Mitchell with 83 yards, Guidry with 69 yards and a score and Joaquin Pesina with 41 yards and a touchdown.
Mitchell (4-52, TD), Abel Hernandez (3-122, TD), Martinez (3-15), Ethan Beane (2-22), Johnston (1-37), Joel Justice (1-27), Griffin Ehlers (1-20), Grady Benton (1-8) and Harris (1-7) have been the receiving threats for Early thus far.
The Longhorns will face a Hawley defense that is giving up 33 points and 425 yards — 272 rushing and 153 passing — per contest.
“They run a split defense and I’m looking forward to it,” Hawthorne said. “They send the house a lot so we’ll get tested with that and we need to with big time district games coming down the pike. We need to pick up the pressure and get better, so I think it’s a great opportunity for us.”
As for what it will take for Early to emerge with the victory and even its record at 2-2, Hawthorne stated correcting the errors from the past two games is the biggest priority.
“We’ve got to solve the problems and mistakes we keep making,” Hawthorne said. “We’ve got to play hard for four quarters. We played hard for a quarter and half last week, but we have to play hard for 48 minutes, play every play. If we do that, that’ll solve some problems. If we learn from our mistakes this week and don’t make them again, we’ll have a lot of positives to talk about.”