Early aiming for back-to-back wins for first time since Weeks 4 and 5 of 2013
EARLY — The Early Longhorns collected their first road win since the 2014 season opener with last week’s 39-29 victory over Bruceville-Eddy, and now shift their attention back to achieving their first win streak since 2013.
The Longhorns (2-1) again hit the road to face the Tolar Rattlers (1-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, where Early seeks consecutive victories for the first time since Weeks 4 and 5 of the 2013 campaign — triumphs over Ballinger (31-15) and Ingram Tom Moore (31-29).
Unlike the Longhorns’ 45-6 rout of Bangs in the season opener, in which Early led throughout, third-year head coach Blake Sandford’s squad persevered through its share of ups and downs against Bruceville-Eddy.
Early trailed 13-7 late in the first half but eventually built a 33-16 lead that Bruceville-Eddy whittled to 33-29 before the Longhorns sealed the victory.
“My takeaway is the kids had to overcome some adversity and they did a great job with it,” Sandford said. “We were tested a little bit and they kept fighting back. They kept working the offensive plan and the defensive plan and I thought that was awesome to see. It’s hard to win a varsity football game in high school, you have to have a lot of things work right for you.”
The Longhorns finished with 351 yards of total offense behind a balanced attack of 177 yards on the ground and 174 through the air, while not committing a turnover for the first time in a game this season.
“We scored at the end of the first half to tie it at 13 and then came back in the beginning of the second half to score again, so that was a good two touchdown swing for us,” Sandford said. “I was pleased with our offense and the way they moved the chains, and that we had no turnovers.”
Behind the play of offensive linemen Bailey Jones, John Griffin, Connor King, Jaiden Cochran and Chase Cochran, quarterback Ryan Trompler again led the charge with 174 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns to go along with a team-best 119 yards rushing and three more scores.
“The offensive line has been a great, pleasant surprise for us,” Sandford said. “They have been creating the opportunity for Ryan to put up big numbers, and when he has time he does a great job getting the ball to the right receiver. The receivers have been running good routes and making great catches. Ryan’s decision making was really great the other night. It all works hand in hand. If he’s given the time, he’s able to put plays together and make good things happen.”
Defensively, though Early allowed a season-high in points, the Longhorns still limited Bruceville-Eddy to 308 total yards and forced a pair of turnovers. John Griffin led Early with 12 tackles and a fumble recovery followed by Miguel Elizondo with 11 tackles and Brandon Lombrano with 10. Devyn Burns also pounced on a loose ball for the Longhorns.
“I thought our defense was really physical and flying around to the ball,” Sandford said. “We have some great players on defense and the line did a good job of controlling and sometimes dominating the line of scrimmage. When they’re doing that it allows our linebackers to make plays happen. One of our d-lineman was our leading tackler, so that shows that they’re really doing a good job of being physical up front and moving the line of scrimmage.”
Heading into Week 4, the Longhorns are averaging 32 points and 355 yards — 213 passing and 142 rushing — per outing, while giving up 18 points and 320 yards — 194 on the ground and 126 through the air.
Trompler has completed 51 of 83 passes for 641 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for a team-best 242 yards and seven scores. Leading receivers include Ty Schafer (17-192, TD), Jesson Tarrant (14-116), Rowdy Elkins (10-189, 2 TDs) and Burns (4-60, TD).
Other threats on the ground include Tarrant (16-82, TD), Jose Pesina (12-62, 2 TDs) and Hayden Barker (10-39).
Standouts on the Longhorn defense include Elizondo (42 tackles, 4 for loss), Teddy Ozuna (24 tackles, 2 for loss), Mason Flippin (21 tackles), Chase Keilers (20 tackles, 2 for loss, FR), Barker (20 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack), Jadyn Lehde (20 tackles, 1 for loss), Griffin (17 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 FR), Burns (17 tackles) and Lombrano (15 tackles, 1 for loss).
Tolar, meanwhile, is coming off a 21-14 overtime loss to Boyd. The Rattlers’ one win was a 48-11 thrashing of Hico in Week 2 after a season-opening 26-6 loss at the hands of Crawford. The Rattlers are averaging 23 points and 238 yards — 155 passing and 82 rushing — per game, while surrendering 19 points and 291 yards — 184 through the air and 107 on the ground — each week.
In the Rattlers’ victory over Hico, quarterback Bryan Morgan threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns, all caught by Clayton Deaver who finished with eight grabs for 225 yards. For the season, Morgan is 33 of 57 for 364 yards and four scores — all to Deaver who has 16 receptions for 293 yards and a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Joseph Sparks, with 125 yards and two touchdowns, and James Henderson are the top threats on the ground for the Rattlers.
Defensively, Tolar is led by Deaver with a team-best 18 tackles along with Mason King (15 tackles), Dalton Mink (12), Ethan Cooper (9) and Kannen Adams (8).
“Tolar is certainly one of the better teams in the area,” Sandford said. “They run a little spread attack and they play a finesse type of game and try to get the ball in their playmakers’ hands,” Sandford said. “Defensively they like to load the box and they base out of a 3-4. It’s going to be a game where we’re going to have to play great and be hitting on all cylinders.”
The biggest keys to a victory, according to Sandford, are for the Longhorns to continue their consistent play on both sides of the ball, along with coming out on top in the turnover department for the second week in a row. Early is -4 in turnover margin for the season thus far.
“Certainly we need to win the turnover war, but we also need to keep improving our play,” Sandford said. “We need to keep getting better at the plays that we call on offense and be physical and fast on defense.”
Last season, Tolar defeated Early by a 27-0 count in a weather-shortened contest.
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 10-point underdog Friday night.