EARLY — Timely plays offensively and a stingy defense a week ago allowed the Early Longhorns, 31-point underdogs, to upend the Tolar Rattlers and begin their first win streak of the season. On the road for the second week in a row, the Longhorns eye a third consecutive victory as they visit the Hamilton Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Since a season-opening set back to Bangs, Early (2-1) has answered with wins over Coleman, 42-14, and at Tolar, 19-18.
The victory over Tolar, in which Early overcame a quick touchdown and allowed just a field goal in the second half, is among the landmark wins in head coach Blake Sandford's five years in charge of the Longhorns.
“They responded well to adversity which is what we told them they were going to have to do time and time again,” Sandford said of the Longhorns' effort against Tolar. “Tolar scored right off the bat at the beginning of the game, we had a missed play on special teams, then they marched it down and scored quickly. The best part about what we did the other night was our kids handled that very well. I was very pleased with our defense, I was very pleased with our offense, the tackling, the blocking, the downfield blocking by our receivers, special teams, all the stuff that we're trying to accomplish in a game, they were able to do that after Tolar had scored first.”
The Longhorns gave up just 228 yards of total offense.
“We really only had two plays we didn't do real well at in the first half,” Sandford said. “The first half they still didn't have that many yards, they had two longer plays that gave them some momentum. The ability to shut them down completely in the second half and our conditioning were pretty good. As each game goes along we're getting in better shape and that's good. The kids had a great sense of want-to and desire.”
For the year, the Longhorns are yielding 25 points and 260 yards — 183 rushing and 77 passing — per game. Standouts include Tre Beam (33 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 FR), Ryan Jones (29 tackles, 3 TFL, 1.5 sacks), Sebastian Perez (22 tackles, 1 FR), Reece Bolton (18 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.5 sacks), Tyson Tyler (14 tackles), Braden Schwartz (13 tackles, 1 TFL) and Jeramiah Fowler
Offensively, Early generated 371 yards — 205 through the air and 166 on the ground. Quarterback Brent Grooms passed for 205 yards and a touchdown to Timmy Smithson, who caught six passes for 144 yards. Grooms also rushed for 57 yards and another score.
“When you have more than one playmaker and more than one guy touching the ball that can do some things with it, that makes you more dynamic and more diverse,” Sandford said. “Jeramiah Fowler was able to get some quality receptions, Tre Beam and Alex Jacobs did such a great job at running back, and Brent ran the ball as well. That gives us another dimension. If you go all the time to Timmy people are going to figure that out. He's a pretty good player, but these other guys are stepping up and having great plays of their own. We've got some things people are going to have to prepare for.”
The Longhorns are producing 23 points and 310 yards per game behind a balanced attack of 156 passing yards and 154 rushing yards.
Grooms has connected on 34 of 53 passes for 468 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, while rushing for 122 yards and a team-high four scores. Other ground threats include Beam (171 yards, 2 TDs) and Jacobs (137 yards, TD). Smithson (16-319, 4 TDs) headlines the receiving corps while Jacobs (5-36) and Fowler (4-62) have made key contributions as well.
Hamilton (2-1) lost its season opener to Millsap, 20-7, but has since reeled off victories over Hico, 46-13, and Moody, 56-14.
In the win over Moody last week, Hamilton built a 28-7 halftime edge.
The Bulldogs finished with 606 yards of total offense — 362 rushing and 244 passing — and scored four touchdowns of 30 yards or longer. Defensively, Hamilton gave up 260 yards — 136 on the ground and 124 through the air — and forced the game's only turnover.
Quarterback Colby Bailey completed 14 of 21 passes for 244 yards with three touchdowns, while leading receivers included Ty Bates (4-109, 2 TDs), Luis Najera (4-32) and Shane Catoe (2-67, TD). Top ground gainers were Jakob Walton (154 yards, 2 TDs), Taylor Long (83 yards, 2 TDs) and Austin Clark (81 yards, TD).
“We're going to have to be great tacklers because they run the ball well and they have some big ol' kids doing it,” Sandford said. “The quarterback is a good-sized kid and he makes their offense go.
“You notice right off the bat they come off the ball extremely well. That's the first thing we're going to have to do, make sure we're doing what we need to do on the offensive and defensive lines. We put a lot of stock into those guys, we think our guys are pretty good and we want them to get after it on the offensive and defensive lines. They changed their defense up, they've gone more to an even front and a four-man front. That makes them a little bit different as far as what they were doing last year.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 4-point underdog.