EARLY — Through the first three games, bright spots have been few and far between for the Early Longhorns, who will attempt to turn their season around when the undefeated Tolar Rattlers visit at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Tolar (3-0) enters the game ranked No. 10 in Class 3A Division II by Harris Ratings Weekly, while Early (0-3), which is still attempting to gain its footing in 2016, is ranked 100th out of 103 Class 3A Division I programs.
In Week 1, Early dropped a 34-8 decision to rival Bangs and in Week 2 the Longhorns were on the wrong end of a 41-20 decision at Roscoe. Last week for homecoming, Early was dealt a 44-0 loss by Bruceville-Eddy in which the Longhorns were limited to 84 yards of total offense while allowing 493.
“Bruceville-Eddy is a very good football team and we didn’t have the type of night we all wanted and had worked so hard for,” said Early head coach Blake Sandford. “The kids again didn’t quit, they were trying hard. The kids aren’t quitting, the coaches aren’t quitting, we’re working as hard as we all can as a collective group. Bright spots happen in each and every game, we’re just trying to put a bunch of those bright spots together for a win. Every day presents a new opportunity to get better.”
The Longhorns enter Week 4 averaging 9 points and 217 yards — 118 passing and 99 rushing — per game, as Early has not yet scored in the first half.
Quarterbacks Trace Evans (23 of 72, 325 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) and Tyler Kirkland (3 of 12, 29 yards) are completing a combined 31 percent of their pass attempts as leading receivers include Drew Sessler (8-210, 3 TDs), Griffin Ehlers (6-81), Devyn Burns (3-31), Abe Morris (3-16) and Chase Keilers (3-8). Top ground gainers are Christian Alcorta (19-102), Evans (31-76), Hayden Turner (22-76) and Miguel Elizondo (9-35).
“I want to see more production on offense, that’s obvious,” Sandford said. “We need to score and that’s not lost on anybody. The coaching staff is working very hard and the kids are working very hard to put ourselves in a great position to score.”
Defensively, the Longhorns are giving up 40 points and 414 yards per game, with 305 coming on the ground.
Leading tacklers include Ehlers (36 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack), Morris (34 tackles), Elizondo (20 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 FR), Eric Diehl (18 tackles, 2 for loss), Teddy Ozuna (15 tackles, 4 for loss), Alcorta (13 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 1 FR), Jim Fowler (13 tackles, 1 FR), Sessler (13 tackles, 1 for loss), Xavier Yebra (12 tackles, 2 for loss), Mason Flippin (12 tackles, 1 FR), Christian Mills (11 tackles, 1 for loss) and Kirkland (11 tackles).
“Shoring up the defense is not lost on us either,” Sandford said. “We have to stop the rushing attack of other teams. Just getting better at what we do, even a little bit better at the things we’re doing, is what I want to see. I want to see some progress and some improvement. Our coaching staff is working very hard to get that done and I couldn’t be more proud of their effort and mindset, especially when things haven’t been going our way.”
Tolar, meanwhile, has started its season with victories over Crawford (34-20), Hico (47-13) and Boyd (36-14).
The Rattlers are averaging 39 points and 404 yards — 244 rushing and 160 passing — per contest.
Quarterback Colby Trinkle has completed 30 of 54 passes for 466 yards with a pair of touchdowns and four interceptions. Cody Jones leads the rushing attack with 387 yards and seven touchdowns, including a 98-yard scamper. Jacob Sparks has chipped in 209 yards and three scores on the ground. Leading receivers include Will Bonnell with 13 grabs for 234 yards, including an 84-yard touchdown, while Griffin King has pulled down four receptions for 89 yards and two scores and Clayton Carr has caught four balls for 69 yards.
The Rattler defense, which yields 16 points per contest, is led by Dustin Lundy (33 tackles), Clayton Deaver (26 tackles, one interception), Sam Bird (19 tackles, three for loss), Jones (15 tackles, one interception), Bonnell (14 tackles, four for loss) and Jonathan Youney (14 tackles, three for loss). Tolar has recorded 10 sacks through three games and intercepted two passes.
“They’re very good and I think they’ve got themselves ranked No. 4 or 5 in the state in one poll,” Sandford said of the Rattlers. “They’ve had the same sort of path that we have, they struggled and struggled but built the program and now the fruits of their labor are apparent. They’re big and they’re fast and we have our work cut out for us. But we’re just a few plays away from achieving great success, we just need to come out firing on all cylinders. I look forward to us still doing the things we do well and eliminating the things we’re not doing well and getting a win on Friday.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 55-point underdog.