BANGS — Homecoming week has arrived in Bangs, where the Dragons attempt to bounce back from a District 4-3A Division II-opening loss — and halt a 20-game skid — as the Grape Creek Eagles come to town.
Bangs (0-4, 0-1) suffered a 52-28 loss at Anson last week, while Grape Creek (2-2, 1-0) opened district action with a 21-3 triumph over Coleman — the second win in a row for the Eagles, following a 14-13 victory over Rocksprings in the pre-district finale.
“Coach (Tanner) Thiel over there has done a great job, you can tell each week they’ve gotten better,” said Bangs first-year head coach Kyle Maxfield. “It seems to me they’ve got some players back on both sides of the ball, I don’t know if they were injured or what, but they’re better on both sides of the ball. They’re not real flashy, they just play a 4-2-5 base defense, run the pistol option and try and execute. They’ll throw some trickery in there, they scored on a double reverse pass the first play against Coleman, so we have to be on our toes for stuff like that.”
In the Eagles’ win over Coleman last week, Garrett Steele connected with Weston Hill on a 61-yard scoring toss just 20 seconds into the game, which is all the points Grape Creek needed. Steele added a 17-yard touchdown carry with 2:36 left in the first period, and the Eagles scored again with 9:47 left on a 53-yard fumble return by Kairo DeLaTorre.
Grape Creek yielded just 174 total yards — 95 rushing and 79 passing — while giving up a 30-yard field goal on the last play of the first half. Offensively, the Eagles churned out 223 yards — 115 on the ground and 109 through the air.
The week prior, in a one-point win over Rocksprings, Grape Creek forced four turnovers and did not give the ball away. The Eagles rushed for 153 of their 167 yards and allowed 217 yards, with 209 coming on the ground.
In the Dragons’ district opener last week, Bangs found itself in a 27-0 hole midway through the second period.
“That’s probably the most frustrated we’ve been going into halftime,” Maxfield said. “Anson got up on us fast and we had some opportunities, but when we didn’t score our intensity wasn’t what it has been on the defensive side of the ball. We responded in the second half and cut it down to a couple of scores, we just couldn’t get the stops when we needed to.”
In an eight-team district, dropping the league opener doesn’t lead to as much panic as it would in more common six-team leagues. But the Dragons are currently focusing more on constant improvement ahead of anything else.
“We told the kids all week it would be great to go over there and get a win, but this wasn’t a must-win, it would just put us in a good position,” Maxfield said. “We really don’t talk about winning and losing too much, it’s about getting better each day and the rest will take care of itself. There’s some upper tier teams in the district, some lower tier teams and some teams in the middle. Hopefully we’re in there fighting for a playoff spot.”
Despite the loss at Anson, Maxfield stated the Dragons were as upbeat heading into Friday’s homecoming contest as they have been all season.
“Our confidence is about as high as it’s been all year,” Maxfield said. “No. 1, we have a home game which we didn’t have in the whole month of September. Two, it’s homecoming, and three, we feel like we match up pretty well with Grape Creek. We still know it’s going to be a big challenge, but we’d like to breakthrough and get a W.”
Bangs enters the contest averaging 21 points and 289 yards — 189 rushing and 100 passing — per outing, with 11 turnovers.
Seth Anderson, with 410 yards on the ground and six touchdowns to go along with 14 catches for 215 yards and three scores, is the leading rusher and receiver for the Dragons. Quarterback Justin Wilson has connected on 27 of 59 passes for 371 yards with four scoring tosses and five interceptions. Ethan Sanchez has chipped in 275 yards and three scores on the ground, while catching three passes for 24 yards. Other offensive weapons include receivers Wesley Mitchell (7-41, TD), Jacob Howell (2-36), Riley Taylor (2-33), Evan Belez (2-18) and Colton Martin (1-17).
“Offensively, we have to cut down on negative plays,” Maxfield said. “We have fumbles where we recover the ball, but we lose yardage. Second-and-15, second-and-20, that really puts us in a bind offensively.”
On the flip side, the Dragons are surrendering 54 points and 559 yards — 331 on the ground and 228 through the air — per contest, with seven takeaways.
Leading tacklers include Sanchez (44 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR, 1 sack), Taylor (35.5 tackles, 3 TFL), Kolt Bradley (24 tackles, 2 FR), Mitchell (20.5 tackles, 1 INT), Hunter Lawrence (18.5 tackles, 1 sack), Anderson (16 tackles, 1 INT), Belez (15 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 sack), Cael John (15 tackles, 1 TFL), Hayden King (9 tackles, 1 TFL) and Corbin Freeland (9 tackles).
“Defensively, we have to make stops on third down, especially third and long,” Maxfield said. “One of the reasons I was so frustrated going into halftime last week is the defense stops them on first down and second down and then it’s third and 12 and they get a first down by half a yard. That takes the wind out of you. If we can get some stops it’ll keep our energy up and give us a little momentum.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Bangs is an 11-point underdog.