BANGS — After earning their first victory in more than two calendar years, the Bangs Dragons are suddenly in the midst of the playoff race in District 4-3A Division II. The Dragons now seek their first win streak first postseason berth since the man who will be roaming the opposing sideline Friday night was head coach at Bangs.
Chuck Lipsey brings the Ballinger Bearcats (3-2, 1-1) to Memorial Stadium at 7:30 p.m. to face the Kyle Maxfield-led Bangs Dragons (1-4, 1-1).
“The townspeople remember Coach Lipsey and think very highly of him and the job he did here,” Maxfield said. “I’m sure he’s looking forward to coming back and playing in this stadium. On our side, we want to put a product on the field like he did when he was here.”
The Dragons took a huge step forward last week, snapping a 20-game losing streak with a 27-0 shutout over Grape Creek. The victory was Bangs’ first since Sept. 9, 2016 and first shutout since a 42-0 triumph over Early on Oct. 15, 2010.
“There’s nothing like a solid win to build your confidence, especially when you as players and coaches, you want to have the confirmation that you’re headed in the right direction, and on a daily basis it seems that way,” Maxfield said. “We’ve been progressing practice-wise, the progression has been good and we’d get to Friday night and it wouldn’t transfer to the field. This past Friday some light bulbs came on and Grape Creek gave us a few breaks that we needed and we were able to turn the momentum and finish it the right way.”
Bangs turned away a couple of Grape Creek scoring opportunities in the first period, then dominated the rest of the way, allowing just 119 total yards including 37 in the second half.
“One thing that (defensive coordinator) Coach (Sam) Gillispie and our defense has stayed true to is tackling drills,” Maxfield said. “It comes down to blocking and tackling. We stayed true to the thing that was hurting us the most in the beginning of the year and that was missed tackles. Grape Creek didn’t have as much speed as some of the teams we’ve played, but our missed tackles were cut down tremendously. We were in the right spot and played discipline football. With today’s offenses it doesn’t matter if they’re running spread or veer, they attack every part of the field. For us to get a shutout is a big credit to our guys.”
On the offensive end, the Dragons churned out 246 yards, with 210 coming on the ground. As impressive as the Bangs ground attack was, Maxfield stated the Dragons will need to be more diverse on offense going forward.
“A big key is us being more balanced,” Maxfield said. “We felt like for the first time all year we established the running game, so now we can build off that. We need to still have that running game and develop some play action passes off that and quick game stuff. The more we’re able to run the ball, the more comfortable (quarterback) Justin (Wilson) is going to be. It’s a lot easier to sit back there when it’s second-and-2 rather than third-and-15. We still had a few negative plays, but we cut down on them and had a lot more good plays on first down.”
Heading into the contest, Bangs is averaging 22 points and 278 yards — 191 rushing and 87 passing — per contest, with 12 turnovers.
Wilson has completed 30 of 63 passes for 406 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions, while rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Seth Anderson leads the Dragons in both rushing (453 yards, 7 TDs) and receiving (17-250, 3 TDs), while Ethan Sanchez (381 yards, 4 TDs) is another force on the ground. Other receiving options include Wesley Mitchell (7-41, TD), Jacob Howell (2-36), Riley Taylor (2-33), Evan Belez (2-18) and Colton Martin (1-17).
Defensively, Bangs is surrendering 43 points and 467 yards — 279 rushing and 187 passing — with eight takeaways.
Leading tacklers include Sanchez (55 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 FR, 1 sack), Taylor (35.5 tackles, 3 TFL), Kolt Bradley (25 tackles, 2 FR), Mitchell (24.5 tackles, 1 INT), Belez (24 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 sack, 1 TFL), Cael John (20 tackles, 1 TFL), Hunter Lawrence (18.5 tackles, 1 sack), Anderson (18 tackles, 2 INTs), Brandon Robinson (16 tackles, 4 TFL), Eli Carbajal (14.5 tackles, 2 TFL) and Trevor Lorah (10.5 tackles).
Ballinger enters the game generating 30 points and 333 yards — 225 rushing and 108 passing – per game, while giving up 28 points.
The Bearcats are led by quarterback Edgar Nunez, who has completed 32 of 54 passes for 480 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions, while rushing for a team-best 531 yards and five scores. In last week’s 55-39 win over Anson, Nunez finished with 323 rushing yards and four touchdowns to go along with 128 passing yards and another score.
Other ground weapons include Cooper Bean (250 yards, 4 TDs), Tyler Vaughn (189 yards, 2 TDs) and Damian Wilborn (131 yards, 4 TDs). Leading receivers include Vaughn (10-132, TD), Weston Rollwitz (10-126, 2 TDs) and Deaundre Manley (3-138, TD).
“They probably present as many challenges on offense as we’ve seen all year,” Maxfield said. “That quarterback can go, he can throw the ball and he definitely has some wheels. I think he had 300 yards rushing last week against a pretty good Anson defense. Scheme wise, they’re very similar to us and hopefully that will help us, being able to recognize their schemes and being true to our keys. They do a great job of trying to put you in a bad position on defense, so it’s going to come down to tackling, especially on that quarterback. We’re going to have to do a good job of that.”
Defensive standouts for Ballinger include Bean (72 tackles, 6 for loss), Colton Belk (46 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 sacks), Jayden Rivera (39 tackles, 3 for loss, 1 FR), Adolph Medina (32 tackles, 7 for loss, 4 sacks, 1 FR), Jon Marcon (30 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks), Adam Winn (30 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks) and Fernando Falcon (18 tackles, 6 sacks, 1 FR).
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Bangs is a 34-point underdog.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge,” Maxfield said. “We have to make sure our kids have both feet on the ground. We have to be realistic about where we are, but at the same time they have a little more hop in their step and we definitely want to keep that going and their confidence going. Anything can happen on Friday night, we know it’s a big challenge, but we have more confidence than we’ve had at any point this year and when kids figure out they can do something, the sky’s the limit.”