BANGS — With two victories in their first four outings of the season, the Bangs Dragons have already demonstrated vast improvement in head coach Jim Bird’s second season. But the program’s latest challenge — returning to the postseason — should be considerably tougher.

The first step on Bangs’ (2-2) journey to what it hopes is a return to playoffs occurs at 7:30 p.m. Friday when the Coleman Bluecats (4-1) visit in the District 4-3A Division II opener for both squads.

“This district is full of a lot of good teams,” Bird said. “Coleman, Tolar, Cisco, Eastland, we get probably the four best teams right out of the gate which is good in a way because it helps us to find out where we stand. Those teams have all taken a step toward the front with their performances in non-district. We have to play our best to put ourselves in a position where maybe we can win one of those games late.”

Though the games mean more from this point forward, Bird and the Dragons aren’t approaching them any differently.

“I think it does more damage than good to approach them differently,” Bird said. “The first four games we got to play were practice runs. They all carry a little more weight now but as far as how we approach them, we hold the same approach. We’re just going to go to work and try and put the best product on the field we can each week.”

In assessing the Dragons’ performance during pre-district action, Bird said, “At times early in the year we were more physical than we expected so that was a pleasant surprise. We’ve been able to move the ball on the ground and use some clock. We have to continue to improve in the passing game and we’re starting to diversify that a little bit. That’ll help against some of the great teams we have in this district to keep them out of our face a little bit.”

The Dragons enter district competition averaging 19 points and 248 yards — 179 rushing and 69 passing — per game. Quarterback Colton Brewer has connected on 26 of 53 pass attempts for 278 yards with two touchdowns while rushing for 172 yards and three more scores. Brian Sterling (275 yards, 2 TDs) and Zach Allen (231 yards and 3 TDs) lead the way on the ground, while primary receivers include Kevin Blayne (8-65), Sterling (6-59, TD), Allen (5-71, TD), Justin Wilson (3-35), Tanner James (2-39) and Kaden Allen (2-11).

On the defensive end, Bangs is surrendering 28 points and 359 yards — 235 on the ground and 124 through the air.

Coleman heads into district coming off its only loss of the season — a 29-22 defeat at the hands of unbeaten Clyde. In that contest, the Bluecats surged in front, 22-21, on a 10-yard touchdown run by quarterback Bryson Hammonds with 4:53 left. But Clyde answered with a 3-yard touchdown run to push the Bulldogs over the top.

The Bluecats finished with 305 yards — 260 rushing and 45 passing — while surrendering 356 yards — 241 on the ground and 115 through the air.

Hammonds rushed for 194 yards for Coleman and added a 45-yard touchdown, while Riley Harris contributed 30 yards and a touchdown. Terren Holloway also chipped in 30 yards on the ground.

Through the air, Denton Allen completed 2 of 4 passes for 45 yards as Harris pulled down a 29-yard reception and Zane Rosales made a 16-yard catch.

The Bluecats’ last victory was a 28-19 road triumph over Brady. In that game, Coleman trailed 6-0 after one quarter, but scored three second-quarter touchdowns to open a 21-6 edge. Brady closed the gap to 21-19 late in the fourth period, but a 2-yard touchdown run by Hammonds with 2:42 left clinched the victory for the Bluecats.

Hammonds finished with 141 yards rushing and three touchdowns for Coleman, as he also scored from 1 and 16 yards out. Hammonds completed 7 of 11 passes for 136 yards as well, with Darrian Hunter grabbing three receptions for 57 yards including a 24-yard touchdown catch.

Coleman racked up 380 yards — 244 rushing and 136 passing — with one turnover while allowing 243 yards, with 221 coming on the ground, with a takeaway.

“Coleman is a fast, physical football team,” Bird said. “They like to pound the rock and control the game. They’re capable of throwing the football when they want to, but it’s so hard to stop their run game. You have to be able to get in there with them and stand in front of them and slow that down or else they’ll never throw it because they won’t have to.

“Defensively, they play assignment football and do a really good job with technique. Coach (John) Elder and his staff are great coaches and do a really good job. Coleman’s a great football team. We know that, everybody knows that. We want to go out and have a good performance against these guys. It’s important for where we want to be long term to raise our level to their level. Our guys welcome that challenge and won’t back down a bit.”

In regard to the keys for coming away with an upset victory in the district opener, Bird said, “We have to be able to control the clock and keep the ball away from them as much as possible, finish drives and play tough defense. We’re going to have to stand in front of them and I think our kids are willing to try and do that. We have to slow them down and not allow them to have big plays on offense and we have to maintain possession of the ball and finish drives. We can’t afford to shoot ourselves in the foot. We can’t have busted assignments and have to overcome penalties and turnovers.”

According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Bangs is a 48-point underdog.