EARLY — The Early Longhorns were denied their first 3-0 start since 1998 last week, but look to rebound as the undefeated Hamilton Bulldogs visit in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. homecoming contest.
After defeating Bangs (60-20) and Coleman (41-18), the Longhorns carried a 7-2 lead into the fourth period last week before the Tolar Rattlers rallied with two late touchdowns to snatch a 16-7 victory.
“Our kids played hard and with a lot of effort,” said Early head coach Blake Sandford. “At the end of the day, I’m proud of that. It was a hard fought ballgame and our kids went toe to toe with Tolar. The defense played lights out, but Tolar played hard, too. It was two teams getting after it.
“The thing we have to take away from it is to continue to get better at what we do even through adversity. You have to have a short memory on these kinds of things. I tell them the most important game is the one we’re playing this week. You can’t look forward and you certainly can’t look backward. You have to look at what’s in front of you.”
The Longhorns actually put forth their best defensive effort of the young season, keeping Tolar off the scoreboard for the first three quarters while giving up 237 yards — 186 rushing and 51 passing — for the game.
“Our defensive performance was great,” Sandford said. “They gave us chances to be in the ball game. Tolar’s defense played great, too, so it was two pretty good defenses going at it, a last man standing kind of deal. We had opportunities to move the ball here and there and just had some unfortunate events happen to us.”
Offensively, the Longhorns were limited to one touchdown and 171 yards after generating 50.5 points and 595 yards per game over the first two.
“Some nights some things click and some things don’t,” Sandford said. “Tolar had a good plan and did a good job. It’s just one of things. We’re still the same offensive team we were at the beginning of the season. It wasn’t for a lack of planning or effort or anything like that. I thought our kids were well-coached and I still stand behind what we’re doing offensively. Tolar is just a good ball team.”
Hamilton enters Friday night’s contest with a perfect 3-0 record having defeated Millsap, 26-25, Hico, 7-0, and Moody, 48-6. The Bulldogs’ three opponents thus far, however, have combined for a 1-7 record.
The Bulldogs offense is headlined by quarterback Daniel Bottlinger, halfbacks Austin Sherman, Kain Kunkel and Blake Pettit, fullback Ian Nath and receivers Denver Poe and Ty Bates. Up front are James Young, Jacob King, Tim Hill, Bradley Elkins and Astin Carr.
“Offensively, it’s a toss and smash right at us,” Sandford said. “They have good athletes and they ground and pound it. It’s going to be a bloody knuckle type of night, one of those things where we’re going to have to come off the ball, establish the line of scrimmage and play great defense.”
Early’s defense is allowing just 12 points and 292 yards — 194 on the ground and 98 passing — per game. Leading tacklers include Brandon Lombrano (34 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 FR, 1 sack), Ty Schafer (28 tackles, 10 TFL), Jose Pesina (24 tackles, 3 TFL), Stephen Holt (23 tackles, 3 TFL), Jadyn Lehde (21 tackles), Jonathan Morales (19 tackles), Carlos Moreno (16 tackles, 2 TFL), Timmy Smithson (15 tackles, 2 INTs) and Riley Richards (13 tackles, 2 FRs).
Defensive standouts for the Bulldogs include Shane Catoe, Houston Tucker, King, Hill, and Sherman up front, Jett Cortez, Matt Zschiesche, Bottlinger, and Kunkel outside, and Nath and Bailey on the back end.
“They play a 10-1 attacking defense so they’re going to be in our face with man coverage on the defensive side,” Sandford said. “They’re going to try and get after us and harass us pretty quick.”
The Early offense is averaging 36 points and 454 yards — 248 rushing and 206 passing.
Quarterback Ryan Trompler has connected on 33 of 67 passes for 610 yards with five touchdowns and one interception, while rushing for a team-high 263 yards and five scores. Top receivers include Smithson (11-324, 4 TDs), Schafer (10-195), Jesson Tarrant (6-48, TD), Morales (4-23) and David Shields (3-12). Additional ground threats include Tarrant (181 yards, 3 TDs), Cale Wade (151 yards, 1 TD), Holt (54 yards, 1 TD), Pesina (52 yards), Brent Grooms (48 yards, 1 TD).
The Longhorns are plus 4 in turnover margin with three giveaways (two fumbles and one interception) and seven takeaways (four interceptions and three fumble recoveries).
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 14-point underdog.