Coming off a winless 2016 season, the Early Longhorns won the Battle of Brown County and topped the Bangs Dragons 45-6 to open the season at Longhorn Stadium Friday night.
With a new cast of characters at the skill positions, the Longhorns were able to execute their spread offense while limiting Bangs’s rushing attack on the other side. Junior Early quarterback Ryan Trompler went 17 for 22 with an interception and threw for 234 yards on the night, notching an additional 102 yards on the ground with four rushing touchdowns. Bangs running back Ethan Sanchez led his team with 95 yards.
Bangs took the game’s opening kickoff and began what looked to be a promising drive. Junior Justin Wilson took the first handoff for 14 yards into Early territory, and Sanchez ran for 12 yards on the next play.
After a personal foul penalty on Early for a late hit, the Dragons were quickly deep in Longhorn territory. But the drive stalled fast when Early stopped junior Seth Anderson for a two-yard loss on the next play, and after a false start penalty the Dragons were unable to convert a fourth and 13 chance from the Early 34, turning the ball over on downs.
Early couldn’t capitalize immediately. On his second play from scrimmage, Trompler floated a pass to senior receiver Devyn Burns on the right sideline, but Bangs’s Wilson won the jump ball instead and quickly earned possession back for the Dragons.
For the second drive in a row, Bangs drove quickly but stalled deep in Early territory and turned the ball over on downs at the Longhorns 25. This time, Early didn’t give the football back.
The Longhorns started their first scoring drive with a 14-yard keeper for Trompler, then hit junior receivers Ty Schafer and Jose Pesina for big gains over the middle. Picking up big yards after the catch, the Longhorns drove quickly and finished the drive the way it started — with a Trompler keeper. He scored from five yards out on third down to put Early up, after a missed extra point, 6-0.
The Early defense stifled Bangs’s efforts to respond, dropping Brewer for a seven-yard loss to start the Dragons’ next drive. The first quarter ended with Bangs forced to punt, facing a fourth and 17 in the shadow of its own goal line.
Bangs forced yet another quick turnover when Early drove to start the second quarter, knocking the ball away from Ty Shafer and taking position at the Early 22. Senior rusher Terick Flores ripped off two straight first-down runs, but his third effort was called back for holding. Facing a first and 20, Bangs went the wrong direction, losing 16 more yards before being forced to punt yet again.
Early didn’t miss its next opportunity to extend the lead. A 28-yard grab from senior Chase Keilers helped set up a second rushing touchdown for Trompler, who then ran in a two-point conversion and upped Early’s lead to 14-0.
The Longhorns would take that lead into the half.
Though the Dragons were far from finished at the break, Early refused to give them an opening when the third quarter began. The Dragons found themselves down another eight points, 22-0, before they even touched the ball in the second half. This time it was Pesina who dove into the end zone from one yard out to cap a drive that was once again characterized by effective running from Trompler.
Bangs’s only score of the game came after that third Early touchdown, as the Dragons fed Sanchez play after play and were finally able to find the goal line with a four yard run from Flores.
By the end of the quarter, though, Early had scored again, tacking on another two-point conversion after a penalty-filled drive that at one point saw the Longhorns convert from a second and 28. Two more touchdown runs from Trompler in the fourth sealed the unexpected blowout win for Early.
Bangs head coach Jim Bird said his squad will have a lot to work on in the coming weeks. “Offensively we made some big plays, but we couldn’t put them together,” Bird said. “Our story so far this year is to have a positive play and then turn right around and have a negative play. It’s hard to sustain any drives.
“Whether it was a penalty, a botched snap or a lack of execution, we can’t play yo-yo offense. We’ve got to gain more consistency,” he said.
Early coach Blake Sandford said he was proud of his new-look Early squad. “It’s a great feeling,” he said. “These kids have worked to get out of the position they were before, and confidence is a big key in any teenager’s life.
“We’ll celebrate this a little bit, then come back tomorrow and start all over again,” he said.
Early looks to start a winning streak next Friday night when it takes on Roscoe back at Longhorn Stadium. The Dragons will return home to Bangs for a showdown against the Hawley Bearcats.