EARLY — The Early Longhorns will attempt to halt a four-game skid, end their year with a .500 record and prevent the Wall Hawks from an outright District 3-3A Division I championship in the regular season finale at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Longhorn Stadium.
After picking up victories in four of their five non-district outings, the Longhorns (4-5, 0-4) have yet to secure a district win and are coming off their most lopsided loss of the season, 61-6 at Jim Ned. Meanwhile, Wall (6-2, 4-0) is perfect in league competition, skating past Breckenridge, 28-22, last week.
Though not as dominant as in recent years, Wall has still proven to be the class of the district in 2018.
“Wall has been able to keep the same staff intact and run the same offense for years and years and have gotten quite good at it,” said Early fourth-year head coach Blake Sandford. “What might be considered a down year for them is not a down year for other people. It’s one of those things where if you work on your assignment, do what you’re supposed to do and the job that you’re asked to do, you’ll find some success there. It’ll be a challenge for us, just as all the district games have been, but we’ve practiced hard and come Friday night we’re going to get after it and do the best that we can.”
The Hawks are producing 30 points and 383 yards — 262 rushing and 121 passing — per game.
Mason Fuchs has thrown for 957 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for 525 yards and 11 scores, which trails only Chase Rios (556 yards, 8 TDs) and Sutton Braden (531 yards, 4 TDs). Coleman Coon is the top receiving threat with 22 grabs for 434 yards and three scores, while Hunter Teplicek has hauled in eight receptions for 177 yards and two trips to the end zone.
Wall is giving up 19 points per game with 31 sacks, seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Leading tacklers are Colton Diebitsch (73 tackles, 9 for loss, 4 sacks), Garrett Bridgford (62 tackles, 9 for loss), Gage Weishuhn (53 tackles, 13 for loss, 7 sacks), Tate Jones (53 tackles, 3 for loss) and Joe Walker (52 tackles, 8 for loss, 10 sacks).
Early heads into the contest averaging 30 points and 390 yards — 243 passing and 147 rushing — per game with 10 turnovers.
Quarterback Ryan Trompler has connected on 148 of 264 passes for 2,175 yards with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for 310 yards — second-most on the team — and six scores. Leading receivers include Timmy Smithson (56-1,164, 15 TDs), Ty Schafer (43-678, TD), Jesson Tarrant (21-89, TD), Jonathan Morales (15-138, 2 TDs), and David Shields (12-81, 1 TD). The leading ground gainer is Tarrant (310 yards, 6 TDs) while other weapons out of the backfield include Cale Wade (279 yards, TD) and Jose Pesina (109 yards, TD).
Defensively, the Longhorns give up 30 points and 362 yards — 254 rushing and 108 passing — per outing, with 17 takeaways.
Leading tacklers are Brandon Lombrano (83 tackles, 10 TFL, 3 FRs, 2 sacks), Pesina (67 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack), Schafer (58 tackles, 16 TFL, 2 FRs, 1 sack), Johnny Club (56 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 FRs), Jadyn Lehde (56 tackles, 1 TFL), Morales (54 tackles, 1 TFL), Stephen Holt (41 tackles, 3 TFL), Carlos Moreno (34 tackles, 2 TFL), John Griffin (34 tackles), Smithson (33 tackles, 2 INTs), Ryan Hicks (28 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 FR), Wade (26 tackles, 1 TFL), Shields (21 tackles, 1 TFL), Riley Richards (20 tackles, 2 FRs).
While the Longhorns were unable to end a playoff drought that extends to 2008, Early did improve on its overall win total this season, and took other positive steps, according to Sandford.
“Offensively we’ve improved at moving the ball,” he said. “We’ve been one of the better ones in the state and I’m really proud of that. We’ve done a really good job of throwing and catching. The incremental improvement that we’ve made over the years, we’ve steadily gotten better. It’s great to see the culmination of their hard work pay off a little bit, but we always want more, a lot more. With the hard work they’ve put in, it’s good to see they’ve had more good days than bad days.”
Though Longhorns fell short of their ultimate goal of a postseason berth in 2018, Sandford is hopeful the foundation has been set to end that drought next year.
“We need to build on what we’ve done and continue to get better with our defense and offense, and the fundamentals,” Sandford said. “We have to bring a sense of aggressive and toughness to the game and keep improving on that, as well as our strength and speed.”
As for the seniors who will conclude their Longhorn careers Friday night, Sandford said, “This group of seniors has done a good job buying in. I’ve been here four years and they’ve done a lot of work — a lot of offseason, boot camp, 7-on-7. They just bought into the whole process and they are much better football players today than they were the first day they stepped on campus as a freshman.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 34-point underdog.