Longhorns conclude year with 44-0 loss

COMANCHE — The Early Longhorns completed a winless season on Friday night with a 44-0 loss to the Comanche Indians, who captured the District 3-3A Division I championship — their first outright title since 1976.

The Longhorns (0-9, 0-5) were held without a first down for the middle two quarters and struggled to contain the Comanche (7-3, 5-0) running attack, which utilized several different rushers and finished with 378 yards on the ground, nearly all of the Indians’ total of 449.

Early quarterback Trace Evans finished with 76 yards and completed 9 passes on 23 attempts. Hayden Turner led the team with 29 rushing yards and Drew Sessler was Early’s leading receiver, snagging two passes for 27 yards.

Both teams traded punts in the early stages, as the Longhorns forced a three-and-out and picked up a first down on their initial drive before kicking the ball away.

The Indians finally struck with 6:37 left in the first quarter on a 51-yard drive that included no passing plays. To counter the Indians’ triple option, the Longhorns had loaded the box with eight players and intended to stop an up-the-middle run on second and 3. Sophomore running back Kade Mercer took the handoff and bounced out left around the Early defense for the 28-yard score.

Early threatened on the next drive and moved all the way to the Comanche 27. The drive included a 16-yard rush from Turner and a 15-yard completion to Sessler on a quick slant. Turner couldn’t get the needed yardage on a third-and-3 rush, however, and Evans was stuffed at the line of scrimmage when he tried a sneak to convert the fourth and 1.

The drive turned out to be Early’s best of the game. Comanche made the Longhorns pay for the turnover on its next drive, yet another with no completed passes. Jeremy Bostick broke a big play from the Comanche 29 and took an handoff up the middle all the way to the Early 27. The Indians didn’t let a false start penalty on the next play deter them, as junior Colton Roberts took the following handoff 21 yards to the 11. Senior running back Byrce Massinigill finished the drive three plays later with a 3-yard touchdown run to put Comanche up 14-0.

Comanche scored a touchdown on each of its possessions for the remainder of the half, while the Longhorns were held without another first down until the 4:56 mark in the fourth quarter.

Comanche used consistently good field position to strike quickly. Its third touchdown came on a 49-yard reception from Trevor Higginbothom, who juked past a Longhorns corner and safety after making the catch on the right sideline and then waltzed another 20 yards into the end zone.

The Indians went up 28-0 with 6:36 left in the second quarter. Quarterback Bronte Hermesmeyer started that drive with a rare Comanche completed pass for 20 yards to the Early 35. A Roberts run gave Comanche the ball at the 14, and Ethan Wilson punched it in from the 8 three plays later, breaking another Early ankle tackle at the 3.

Running back Jameson Allen showed off his speed with a 55-yard run up the left sideline to extend the Comanche lead two minutes later, and the Indians ended the first-half onslaught with a drive that saw nothing but handoffs to Massinigill. Massinigill scored in four plays from the Comanche 43, his most notable run coming from the Early 42 when he broke several tackles and dragged a pile of Longhorns all the way down to the 15.

The Longhorns did come up with a nice 14-yard sack early in the second quarter, but the Indians were able to overcome the lost yardage. Early’s offense struggled to get anything going, trying a combination of runs and screen passes but were unable to fool the quick Indians defense.

Comanche went to halftime with a 41-0 lead.

The second half went quickly, as the Indians relied on the running game and Early was unable to mount a challenge. Comanche extended its lead with 3:06 left in the third quarter, as the Longhorns finally made a third-down stop and forced a 35-yard field goal that put the score at its final 44-0 mark. Comanche went to its backup quarterback, Bostick, who did not attempt a pass on the night.

Comanche almost found the end zone with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, but a botched handoff put the ball on the ground near the Early goal line and Sessler scooped up the loose football, returning it to the Early 20. It was the only turnover for either squad.

Early head coach Blake Sandford said it was always sad to end a season. “You put so much work into the kids’ lives and try to get them better, not only as football players but you try to get them better as young men,” he said. “I think that’s a never-ending job for us, and we work every day for these fellas.”

He said the Longhorns would have lots of returning talent and exciting new pieces in 2017. “We’re going to miss the seniors and their efforts and the foundation of what they tried to build … but we’ve got a good group coming up and we’re excited to see the fruits of their labor after a full year of work.”