EARLY — After a promising start to the season, the Early Longhorns find themselves in the role of spoiler heading into the final two weeks of the 2018 campaign. At 7:30 p.m. Friday in their final road contest of the season, the Longhorns (4-4, 0-3) will attempt to remove the Jim Ned Indians (6-2, 2-1) from district championship contention in 3-3A Division I.

The Longhorns are coming off a 35-14 home loss to Breckenridge, a game in which Early was outscored 26-0 in the third period. Early opened district with a 49-35 loss against Eastland, a game in which the Longhorns led at halftime. Aside from a 41-12 loss at Clyde, where the Longhorns gave up 27 points in the first 13 minutes of the game, and the third period against Eastland, Early has put forth a solid performance against its district foes.

“We cannot stop working after all the progress we’ve made, we don’t want to turn around and go backwards,” Early fourth-year head coach Blake Sandford said in regard to the program’s approach in the midst of a three-game slump. “Nobody goes halfway up Mount Everest and turns around and comes back down. We just have to keep climbing. Don’t stop believing, keep plugging. They’ll be hard days. Not every day is going to be easy, you just keep trying your best.”

Looking back on last week’s loss to Breckenridge, the Longhorns finished with 274 yards of total offense, but were limited to a mere 12 yards on the ground. The Buckaroos, meanwhile, rushed for 294 of their 334 total yards.

“We had some success early on, we were doing a really good job, we just had some ‘failure to get it done’ moments,” Sandford said. “It wasn’t because of lack of effort. I thought our kids played extremely hard and the coaches coached extremely well, it’s just one of those things where Breckenridge is really good and really big. Things got away from us a little bit in the third quarter, but for three quarters we did a really good job. One of the things we do have to get better at is overcoming the size differential.”

Jim Ned is coming off 22-8 victory over Clyde, a game that was scoreless at halftime and 6-2 in favor of the Indians through three quarters. Jim Ned also owns a district win over Breckenridge (10-7), while falling to Wall (41-27).

The Indians enter the contest averaging 33 points and 346 yards — 189 rushing and 157 passing — per outing, with 18 points allowed per game.

Quarterback Dylan Martin has completed 67 of 115 passes for 1,105 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions, while leading receivers include Casey Hall (19-396, TD)

Jordan Torrez (16-279, 3 TDs), Cade Ford (10-154) and Austin Martin (9-146). The ground game is anchored by Cooper Castro (771 yards, 5 TDs), Martin (312 yards, 6 TDs) and Riley Perry (250 yards, 11 TDs).

“They’re another spread team and another odd front defense,” Sandford said. “We’ve seen those things this year and we’ve seen Jim Ned in 7-on-7. We have quite a bit of film on them and they’re talented. They’re explosive on offense and do a great job running their defense.”

The Indians have recorded 15 sacks and 11 takeaways — eight fumble recoveries and three interceptions — as leading tacklers include Kade Kimmel (103 tackles, 4 for loss, 3 sacks), Rylan Hayes (79 tackles, 2 for loss, 3 sacks), Chris Thormeyer (73 tackles, 2 for loss) and Ty Doty (45, 6 for loss, 3 sacks).

The Longhorns head into the game producing 33 points and 421 yards — 263 passing and 158 rushing — on the offensive end.

Ryan Trompler has connected on 137 of 241 passes for 2,089 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions. Leading receivers are Timmy Smithson (56-1,164, 15 TDs), Ty Schafer (38-605, TD), Jesson Tarrant (17-87, TD), Jonathan Morales (13-127, 2 TDs) and David Shields (12-81, TD). The ground game is anchored by Tarrant (449 yards, 7 TDs), Trompler (307 yards, 6 TDs) and Cale Wade (271 yards, TD).

Defensively, Early is yielding 26 points and 339 yards — 238 on the ground and 101 through the air — per outing.

Standouts include Brandon Lombrano (78 tackles, 9 TFL, 3 FRs, 2 sacks), Jose Pesina (64 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack), Schafer (54 tackles, 15 TFL, 2 FRs, 1 sack), Jadyn Lehde (53 tackles, 1 TFL), Jonathan Morales (49 tackles, 1 TFL), Johnny Club (46 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 FRs), Stephen Holt (40 tackles, 3 TFL), Carlos Moreno (33 tackles, 2 TFL), Smithson (30 tackles, 2 INTs), and Ryan Hicks (26 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 FR).

“We still have to keep doing what we’re doing as far as ball control, moving the chains, and no turnovers. We can’t have any mistakes,” Sandford said in regard to the keys to victory against Jim Ned. “We need to play hard and play our best. Play with aggressiveness and competitiveness. Defensively, we need to play solid and get them off the field and play for four quarters.

“We’re in the conversation with these teams in the district. Coaches are telling us you have to watch out for our guys. We’re explosive on offense and play pretty good defense. That’s what the coaches tell me at the end of the game. Our Early Longhorns are getting quite a bit of respect from our district opponents.”

According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 21-point underdog.