EARLY —After dropping their first two District 3-3A Division I contests, the Early Longhorns are looking to return to their early season winning ways as the Breckenridge Buckaroos visit at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Early (4-3, 0-2) and Breckenridge (2-5, 0-2) both need a victory to remain in the heart of the playoff race, as the Longhorns are targeting their first postseason appearance since 2008. The Longhorns opened the season with wins in four of their first five outings, but have struggled to match that level of play against district foes.
“I want to see us rebound and get back to some of the stuff we’ve been successful with early in the year,” said Early fourth-year head coach Blake Sandford. “It’s the same kids, the same coaches and they’ve done great things this year and I want to see them get back to that and go on to the next opportunity, which is this Friday night.”
Despite the 0-2 district start, Sandford and the Longhorns haven’t gone into panic mode.
“As far as any frantic, urgent feelings in our minds, it’s the same ball game this week as it was last week,” Sandford said. “They’re all important and we’re still going to do the regular work that we’ve done before, but we’re going to make sure we don’t have any bad reps. We want to make sure we get back to the fundamentals to make sure we aren’t missing anything. We have to get better at what we do.”
The Longhorns are coming off their most lopsided loss of the season, a 41-12 defeat at Clyde. Early trailed 27-0 less than a minute into the second quarter and never established a rhythm on either side of the ball.
In pre-district action, Early yielded 20 points and 265 yards per game, but against 3-3A Division I foes the Longhorns have surrendered 45 points and 563 yards per outing.
“We need to correct and get better at some things,” Sandford said. “The things I saw that we messed up on are certainly very correctable. It wasn’t for lack of effort or athletic ability. Clyde was certainly good and got after us. You get too far down in a hole and it changes your game plan. It’s just one of those things where we can’t get down in a hole. We have to start faster and match them punch for punch. Clyde was very good, but looking at film several times over the course of the weekend, there were things where if we could have just done this or that we could have been more successful. We need get aligned better and execute better, and those are things I know these kids can do.”
Breckenridge has started its district slate with a pair of three-point losses — 10-7 in a defensive struggle at Jim Ned and 44-41 in an offensive slugfest with Eastland. Since opening the season with wins over Jacksboro (43-36) and Comanche (14-7), the Buckaroos have lost five straight including contests to Cisco (34-13), Brock (20-9) and Dublin (22-21).
The Buckaroos average 21 points and 343 yards — 214 rushing and 129 passing — while giving up 25 points per outing.
Breckenridge has used two quarterbacks Kevin Franco (25 of 45 for 477 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs; 207 rushing yards, 4 TDs) and Owen Woodward (32 of 58 for 443 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs; 232 rushing yards, 3 TDs). Angel Ruiz (769 yards, 5 TDs) leads the charge on the ground, while receiving threats include Franco (9-158, TD), Kyler Knight (9-157), Weston Wilson (7-79), Aaryn Medina (4-142) and Woodward (4-90, 2 TDs).
“Offensively they’re more of a spread power run team,” Sandford said. “They have a really good running back and their quarterbacks are pretty good. They come off the ball really well and do some things offensively we’re going to have to get ready for. We have to get a good jump off the line of scrimmage and be able to tackle.”
Early counters with a defense that is yielding 24 points and 340 yards — 230 on the ground and 110 via air — for the season, with 14 takeaways.
Leading the way are Brandon Lombrano (67 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 FRs, 2 sacks), Jose Pesina (56 tackles, 4 TFL), Ty Schafer (50 tackles, 14 TFL, 2 FRs), Jadyn Lehde (48 tackles, 1 TFL), Jonathan Morales (43 tackles), Johnny Club (40 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 FRs), Stephen Holt (39 tackles, 3 TFL), Carlos Moreno (32 tackles, 2 TFL), Timmy Smithson (27 tackles, 2 INTs), Ryan Hicks (24 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 FR), Cale Wade (22 tackles, 1 TFL), Riley Richards (20 tackles, 2 FRs) and Logan Gillem (18 tackles).
On the flip side of the ball, the Longhorns head into Friday’s encounter averaging 35 points and 442 yards — 263 passing and 179 rushing — per game with seven giveaways for the season.
Quarterback Ryan Trompler has completed 114 of 200 passes for 1,827 yards with 18 touchdowns and four interceptions while rushing for 296 yards, second-most on the team, and six scores.
Smithson (50-1,064, 14 TDs) has already eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving while other threats include Schafer (29-493, TD), Jesson Tarrant (13-84, TD), David Shields (11-77, TD) and Morales (10-84, TD).
On the ground, Tarrant (448 yards, 7 TDs) leads the way with help from Wade (271 yards, TD).
The Buckaroos defense — which has forced just four turnovers all season — is spearheaded by Rance Russell (64 tackles, 16 for loss, 6.5 sacks), D’andrey Silva (47 tackles, 2 for loss), Griffin Flournoy (46 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 sacks), Jake Escalon (38 tackles, 3 for loss) and Franco (37 tackles).
“Defensively they’re going to run a 4-3, man under two deep look,” Sandford said. “They try and play the run first with at least six in the box, sometimes seven. It’s not unlike us in some ways. Their defense is very well coached and they’re going to try and stop the run and force you to find open spots in the passing game.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 12-point underdog.