EARLY — Coming off their first victory of the 2019 campaign, the Early Longhorns are targeting a win streak as they hit the road for the first time to battle the Tolar Rattlers. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Early collected a 42-14 home victory over Coleman last week, rebounding from an opening 44-7 loss to Bangs. Tolar also found the win column for the first time in Week 2, posting a 23-17 victory over De Leon after dropping a 21-16 decision to Crawford in the opener.
The Longhorns finished with 409 yards total of total offense last week, including 254 rushing. Alex Jacobs led the way with 88 yards and a touchdown, Tre Beam chipped in 85 yards and two scores and quarterback Brent Grooms added 68 yards and two trips to the end zone.
“We feel like we have some really good weapons this year offensively,” said Early head coach Blake Sandford. “With the attention (receiver) Timmy (Smithson) is garnering, it was a big focus early on in the offseason to make sure we're involving other kids into the offense, especially with the talent level that they possess. They can do a lot of different things, and that was one of the reasons to get the ball spread to a lot of guys and give our offense a more dynamic approach.”
Grooms also completed 13 of 19 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown to all-state receiver Timmy Smithson, who finished with six receptions for 109 yards.
“It was nice to see him kind of turn it loose a little bit,” Sandford said of Grooms. “He had some really good runs. He got us out of some jams a few times when he pulled the ball back down and got some first downs. He was thinking really clearly as far as seeing the field and trying to hit the open receivers. I thought he did a good job managing the game and making plays when he needed to. It was really good to see him progress from Week 1 to Week 2.”
Regarding Smithson, Sandford said, “He's just such a competitor. His will to win is strong, and he's a great teammate. He doesn't care who gets the credit as long as we're successful and have a chance to win. I really appreciate his focus and leadership on that aspect.”
For the season, Early is averaging 24.5 points and 279.5 yards – 148 rushing and 131.5 passing – per outing. Grooms has completed 23 of 39 passes for 263 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while rushing for 65 yards and two scores. Jacobs (104 yards, TD) and Beam (95 yards, 2 TDs) have been the main weapons out of the backfield, while Smithson (10-175, 2 TDs) has recorded almost half of Early's receptions.
Defensively, the Longhorns yielded just 184 total yards to Coleman after being gashed for 367 by Bangs.
“We missed so many tackles in Week 1 that it became the focus on our practices,” Sandford said. “It was an attitude adjustment and our kids really responded well to that. The effort, the hustle, the attitude I thought was really great on the defensive side of the ball. We went from 38 missed tackles the first game to five, so that was refreshing to see.”
For the year, Early is allowing 29 points and 275.5 yards – 205 on the ground and 70.5 through the air – per game. Standouts include Beam (24 tackles, 2 TFL), Ryan Jones (22 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack), Braden Schwartz (11 tackles, 1 TFL), Sebastian Perez (11 tackles, 1 FR), Tyson Tyler (10 tackles), and Reece Bolton (10 tackles, 1 TFL).
Tolar will present more of a passing threat than what the Longhorns have seen through the first two games. In their Week 1 game against Crawford, quarterback Wesley Miller completed 13 of 26 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown, a 68-yarder to Brett Jackson. Brandon Click (3-29), Seth Carroll (2-46), Reese Robinson (2-29), Blane Morris (2-17) and Sam Stokes (2-4) also got into the receiving act. On the ground, Miller rushed for a team-high 65 yards while Braegen Berry added 43 yards and a touchdown and Colton Tuggle rushed for 34.
“They look a lot like us as far as their formations and sets, they're a spread team and won't necessarily line up and run down hill like the other teams did, but that doesn't mean they can't,” Sandford said. “It'll be a nice to see because we practice against this everyday, so the kids will have a familiarity with it as far as playing pass defense. We welcome the challenge.”
Defensively, the Rattlers are yielding 19 points per game on average. Against Crawford, Brock Owens led the way with 15 tackles, Berry added 10 and Michael Stephens and Bannon Stump tallied eight takedowns each. Tolar recovered two fumbles, intercepted a pass and recorded one sack.
“They'll come out in an even and an odd front and pose problems with their outside linebackers as far as trying to stop some things that we do,” Sandford said. “We'll have to be pretty creative and solid in our assignments to make sure we're doing what we need to do to move the ball.”
In order for the Longhorns to return home with a victory Friday, Sandford said, “The first key is to keep improving. We want to improve every game in what we do. It's still the same thing we talked about last week, we want to come off the ball and establish the line of scrimmage and make sure we're doing what we need to do as far as blocking and tackling. Those are the first two things they learn when they first start playing football and they're important for us today. And then we need to get the ball to our playmakers and let them cut it loose. We want to really expand on our offense and get it down field while controlling the clock.”
Last season, Tolar rallied Early with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 16-7 victory.
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 31-point underdog.