EARLY — Off to their best start since 2006, the Early Longhorns bounced back from their only loss of the season by throttling Hamilton for homecoming, and seek a fourth victory Friday night as they wrap up their pre-district schedule against the Hico Tigers.
Kickoff between the Longhorns (3-1) and Tigers (1-2) is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Hico.
Following a 16-7 setback against Tolar in the home opener on Sept. 14, Early again lit up the scoreboard in last week’s 48-7 triumph over Hamilton.
Through four games, the Early offense has been one of the most prolific in Class 3A across the state, averaging 39 points and 474 yards — 238 passing and 236 rushing — per game. The Longhorns’ 50/50 balance between the air and ground game has made the offense difficult to defend.
“(Offensive coordinator) Coach (Dale) Trompler, Coach (Mike) Sharpe with the running backs, Coach (Todd) Hatton with the receivers, Coach (Josh) Lehde with the offensive line, what they’re able to do is they work so well together on the offensive side that if something’s not necessarily working we can fix it really quick,” said Early fourth-year head coach Blake Sandford. “We have some really good running backs and some really good receivers, and of course a quarterback that can throw the ball. We do a good job of counting how many people they have in the box, and our O-line knows if it’s a running play to get the double team if we need to or whatever it takes to get it accomplished. They do a good job recognizing the defense.”
Every successful offense is predicated by the play of the offensive line, and Early is no exception as center Logan Gillem, left tackle Patrick Valencia, left guard Adrian Elizondo, right guard Jayden Lehde and right tackle Bailey Jones have paved the way in the trenches.
“They work very hard and when the work is done at practice they start afterward and do a little more,” Sandford said. “All those little ‘mores’ that they do every day is starting to pay off. They do a little extra sled work every day. It’s one of those things they take pride in. They want us to run the ball more so they can show off a little bit, but they take great pride in taking the team on their shoulders and it all starts and revolves around them and they like that.”
Among the skill players, Timmy Smithson is coming off an eight-catch, 259-yard performance with four trips to the end zone. For the year, Smithson has caught 19 passes for 583 yards — an average of 31 yards per catch – with eight touchdowns. Quarterback Ryan Trompler has completed 48 of 86 passes for 936 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, while continuing to lead the Longhorns with 263 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, despite not carrying the ball once against Hamilton.
Other receiving threats include Ty Schafer (10-195), Jesson Tarrant (7-50, TD), Jonathan Morales (5-30) and David Shields (6-53, TD), while weapons out of the backfield include Tarrant (285 yards, 4 TDs) and Cale Wade (204 yards, TD).
“Ryan will get the ball to anyone who can get downtown in a hurry,” Sandford said. “We work hard at trying to catch the ball and trying to go score. We’ve worked hard in track, we have some explosive ability and that’s nice to watch.”
While the offense has grabbed much of the attention, the points allowed by the Early defense has decreased in each game this season. For the year, the Longhorns are yielding just 15 points and 266 yards — 190 rushing and 76 passing — per game, with seven takeaways. Hamilton managed just one touchdown and 191 yards, with 179 coming on the ground, a week ago.
Leading tacklers include Brandon Lombrano (41 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 FR, 1 sack), Jose Pesina (35 tackles, 3 TFL), Schafer (34 tackles, 12 TFL), Stephen Holt (30 tackles, 3 TFL), Lehde (29 tackles), Morales (26 tackles), Carlos Moreno (23 tackles, 2 TFL), Riley Richards (20 tackles, 2 FRs), Johnny Club (16 tackles, 2 TFL) and Smithson (15 tackles, 2 INTs).
“It’s the kids getting better at defending the run and we’ve got some speed on the back end as far as the pass defense,” Sandford said. “I think they’ve done a good job as far as allowing us to put more guys in the box and still go make plays on the back end. Coach (Daniel) Price, the defensive coordinator, has done a great job of getting those guys ready to play. Our defensive staff is stressing turnovers and getting all 11 hats to the ball and the kids have bought into that philosophy.”
Early faces a Hico squad that is coming off its first win, 9-7 over Thrall. The Tigers lost the week prior to Hamilton, 7-0, and suffered a 45-28 defeat at the hands of Dublin in the season opener.
Hico picked up the win last week thanks to a 40-yard field goal and a 34-yard touchdown run by quarterback Luc Hyles, who finished with 101 yards on the ground. The Tigers amassed 146 yards, including 135 rushing, while giving up 133 yards.
In the shutout loss to Hamilton the week before, Hico was held to 111 yards — 70 on the ground and 41 through the air – with four turnovers.
Hico finished with 305 yards, including 273 rushing, in the opening loss to Dublin, but gave up 419 yards — 242 through the air and 177 on the ground.
“They run the flexbone on offense and that’s what we’re going to see when we face Wall,” Sandford said. “This was a way to get somebody on the schedule that runs the same thing that Wall does. It’ll be a test for us on the defensive side because you have to play assignment type football — make sure who has the dive, who has the quarterback and who has the pitch.
“On defense, they’re going to put seven in the box to stop the run. It’s a 4-3 type look, a get after you and attack style of defense.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 15-point favorite.