EARLY — It’s homecoming week in Early as the Paradise Panthers come to town while the Longhorns are looking to re-establish positive momentum in their final game prior to the start of District 3-3A Division I action.
Kickoff time between Early (2-2) and Paradise (1-3) is 7:30 p.m. Friday at Longhorn Stadium.
The Longhorns are coming off a 33-7 loss at Tolar, a game that was tied at halftime. Early finished with 286 total yards — 215 passing and 71 rushing — while yielding 370 yards — 190 through the air and 180 on the ground.
“We didn’t respond as well in the second half to what they were doing,” said Longhorns third-year head coach Blake Sandford. “We put up a lot of numbers in the first half and had 15 of our 19 first downs. We just came out flat in the second half and that wasn’t what we wanted to happen with our ball team. We must maintain effort the whole 48 minutes and continue to work hard and continue to work with the hair on fire type passion.”
Paradise, meanwhile, collected its first win last week, 49-21 over Wichita Falls City View. The Panthers have lost games to Holliday (42-12), Henrietta (27-12) and Jacksboro (14-7).
“They’re a smash mouth, flex bone type team so they’re going to come right at us,” Sandford said of Paradise. “They’re going to try and run right between the tackles so we’re going to have to get ready to stop a good running team.
“On defense they fly to the ball pretty well. They do things that we feel like we match up well with and can overcome. Basically we just need to play hard, play physical, and play our best.”
In Paradise’s victory last week, the Panthers led City View 15-7 after one quarter, 28-7 at halftime and 41-7 through three quarters.
Paradise finished with 392 yards of total offense, including 343 rushing, with two turnovers.
Jacob Robinson rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns but lost two fumbles. Angus Pace chipped in 31 yards on the ground while Reggie Contreras and Jace Essig both rushed for 19 yards and a touchdown. Essig also completed 4 of 6 passes for 49 yards with a 7-yard touchdown to Tucker Edwards. Mitchell Sellers caught two passes for 31 yards and Gage Schneck added an 11-yard reception.
Defensively, the Panthers yielded 194 yards, with 129 coming in the ground, while forcing five turnovers — all interceptions, three by Contreras and two by Bryson Clark. The touchdowns surrendered were on passes of 17 and 18 yards along with an 86-yard run.
Early counters with an offense that averages 26 points and 338 yards — 214 passing and 124 rushing — per outing, but has given the ball away eight times, an average of two per game.
Quarterback Ryan Trompler has completed 81 of 131 passes for 856 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for a team-best 259 yards and seven scores. Leading receivers include Ty Schafer (27-226, TD), Rowdy Elkins (18-260, 2 TDs), Jesson Tarrant (18-140) and Devyn Burns (9-139, TD). Tarrant has also rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns while Jose Pesina has chipped in 62 yards and a pair of scores.
Defensively, Early is allowing 22 points and 332 yards —191 rushing and 141 passing — per contest, with just two turnovers forced.
Standouts include Miguel Elizondo (63 tackles, 4 for loss), Brandon Lombrano (29 tackles, 1 for loss), Mason Flippin (28 tackles), Chase Keilers (27 tackles, 2 for loss, FR), Teddy Ozuna (27 tackles, 2 for loss), Hayden Barker (25 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 sack), Burns (25 tackles), Jadyn Lehde (24 tackles, 1 for loss) and John Griffin (20 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 FR).
“We’re still putting up good numbers on offense, and we still had moments of doing a good job on defense,” Sandford said. “We just weren’t putting it together in a string of successive plays against Tolar. We have to overcome that.”
Last season, Paradise defeated Early, 41-7, but according to Harris Ratings Weekly, this year’s outing is a virtual toss up with the Longhorns listed as a 1-point underdog.
The keys to a Longhorn victory, according to Sandford, are, “to match what they’re doing in terms of intensity. If they’re ball control on offense, we’ve got to get stops on third down and get the defense off the field. On offense, we have to keep moving the chains and trying to get a score on as many possessions as we can.
“We need to continue to keep grinding it out, work on being physical, and work on being aggressive. We’re running the offense, running the defense, and getting the gist of those aspects, but we have to be more physical than the other team. We need put everything together Friday night so when we go into our off week we’re clicking on all cylinders.”