EARLY — The toughest portion of the Early’s District 3-3A Division I schedule, at least on paper, is now behind them. And despite a winless start to the season, the postseason is a still a possibility for the Longhorns — but defeating the one-win Jim Ned Indians Friday night is crucial to their chances.
The Longhorns (0-6, 0-2), coming off a 72-14 loss to No. 12 Clyde, visit the Indians (1-6, 0-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Following Friday’s contest, Merkel (2-5, 0-2) and Comanche (4-3, 2-0) remain on Early’s schedule
“The playoffs are something we’ve talked about since the beginning of the offseason last year,” said Early second-year head coach Blake Sandford. “But in reality, it’s all about playing the snap and that’s truly been our focus, to win a snap and go on to the next one. Anything that ever happens after that is a benefit and a bonus. We’re worried about the here and now, not trying to forecast our future.”
While Clyde and Brady were considered the class of the league during the preseason, and thus far in district competition, Sandford stated Early is in no position to breathe a sigh of relief over the final three weeks of the regular season.
“I don’t know that it gets easier,” Sandford said of the closing schedule. “From all indications from the start of district, Brady and Clyde were the two best teams. But these other three teams are pretty good, too. Comanche, Jim Ned and Merkel are all well-coached and they’re playing good ball. The only indication we have is their record, but as far as personnel goes we have our work cut out for us this week, next week and the week after. There are no easy days.”
Looking back at last week’s loss to Clyde, the Longhorns surrendered 36 points in the first period, 58 in the first half and 566 yards — 296 passing and 270 rushing — for the game. Offensively, Early tallied a touchdown in each half and generated a season-high 281 yards of total offense — 170 through the air and 111 on the ground.
“It was a pretty good effort offensively against the No. 12 team in the state, just in regard to moving the ball up and down the field,” Sandford said. “But we left some touchdowns out there that we could have had.
“Defensively, every time Clyde touched the ball they scored. We may have gotten them off the field once. Clyde’s very good and something we’re still trying to get better at is stopping people and shoring up the defense.”
Jim Ned enters Friday’s game averaging just 15 points per game while allowing 30. The Indians’ lone victory was a 33-19 decision over Bangs, which knocked off Early by a 34-8 count in the season opener.
The Indians are coming off a 21-12 loss at Brady, which downed Early, 43-18, as Jim Ned mustered 109 yards of total offense — 17 rushing on 19 carries and 92 yards through the air on 8 of 22 passing.
Down 7-6 after one quarter, Jim Ned — which allowed 339 yards, including 209 rushing, while forcing three turnovers — found themselves in a 21-6 halftime hole.
Starting quarterback Dillon McCoy threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Conner Akins in the first period. Dylan Harrell took the most snaps behind center, however, completing 6 of 13 attempts for 84 yards with a 23-yard scoring toss to Akins, who finished with six receptions for 57 yards. Coalby Reeves rushed for a team-best 17 yards for Jim Ned.
“Jim Ned has some talented athletes on the receiving corps that are pretty good and great linebackers on defense,” Sandford said. “We’re going to see another odd front which is what we’ve seen the last two weeks so it will be a familiar defense for us. Jim Ned is playing some pretty good ball, hanging in there and scoring some points. I expect them to be up because it’s a game they need to win as well, so it should be a battle.”
Early enters the game averaging 11 points and 218 yards — 133 passing and 85 rushing — per contest. Quarterback Trace Evans has completed 55 of 155 passes for 768 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions, while leading receivers include Drew Sessler (21-460, 7 TDs), Devyn Burns (11-124, 2 TDs), Griffin Ehlers (6-81), Hayden Turner (6-48), Joshua Graves (5-42) and Chase Keilers (4-19). Top ground gainers include Turner (205 yards), Evans (158 yards) and Christian Alcorta (115 yards), but the Longhorns are still searching for their first rushing touchdown.
On the defensive end, the Longhorns have been shredded for 46 points and 473 yards — 355 rushing and 118 passing — per outing. Defensive leaders include Miguel Elizondo (51 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 1 FR), Ehlers (40 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack), Abe Morris (34 tackles), Jim Fowler (33 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 FR), Eric Diehl (29 tackles, 2 for loss), Sessler (29 tackles, 1 for loss), Alcorta (26 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 1 FR), Xavier Yebra (22 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack), Mason Flippin (22 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 FR), Adrian Alfaro (21 tackles, 1 for loss) and Keilers (21 tackles, INT).
In regard to the keys to an Early victory Friday night, Sandford said, “Offensively it’s the same as every week — moving the chains, getting some first downs and getting more people involved in touching the ball. I thought we did a good job starting that process this past week.
“Our defense needs to line up right, make sure we are where we’re supposed to be and then make the tackle.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 21-point underdog.