EARLY — Following consecutive losses to begin District 3-3A Division I action, the Early Longhorns are in dire need of a victory against the winless Breckenridge Buckaroos to keep the hopes for their first playoff berth since 2008 alive.
Kickoff between Early (3-4, 0-2) and Breckenridge (0-7, 0-2) is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Buckaroo Stadium.
The Longhorns are coming off their first shutout loss in almost two years, a 33-0 home defeat at the hands of Clyde. Breckenridge, led by first-year head coach Casey Hubble, fell victim to Eastland by a 76-34 count last week.
Despite the Buckaroos' record, Early fifth-year head coach Blake Sandford anticipates a strong challenge from the Breckenridge.
“I expect another good effort by another opponent,” Sandford said. “Everybody’s going to prepare for us, everybody’s going to be a test for us. We have to have a tougher mentality in terms of blocking and tackling.”
Breckenridge has fallen to Jim Ned (32-0) and Eastland in district action, while non-district defeats came at the hands of Jacksboro (35-20), Comanche (31-28, OT), Cisco (40-19), Brock (26-7) and Dublin (28-21).
In last week's loss to Eastland, the Buckaroos generated 209 yards of total offense — 120 rushing and 89 passing — but yielded 648 yards — 356 through the air and 292 on the ground, and 48 points in the first half alone.
Early's loss against Clyde last week featured a season-low 150 yards gained — 85 rushing and 65 passing — with 422 yards surrendered.
“We executed at times and we didn’t execute at times,” Sandford said. “But every single thing we can think of we need to get better at it. We have to roll our sleeves up and get back to work.”
For the season, Early is averaging 26 points and 346 yards — 185 rushing and 161 passing — per game.
Quarterback Brent Grooms has completed 82 of 141 passes for 1,129 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for 342 yards and seven touchdowns. Other weapons in the ground game include Alex Jacobs (356 yards, 4 TDs), Tre Beam (344 yards, 4 TDs) and Cale Wade (226 yards). Receiving threats include Timmy Smithson (42-812, 9 TDs), Beam (9-64), Rylie Hall (9-42), Carlos Moreno (6-63, 2 TDs), Jacobs (5-36), Jesson Tarrant (5-21) and Jeramiah Fowler (4-62).
On the defensive side of the ball, the Longhorns yield 31 points and 344 yards — 191 on the ground and 153 through the air — per outing. Leading tacklers include Beam (77 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 FR), Ryan Jones (59 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), Reece Bolton (45 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, FR), Sebastian Perez (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR), Tyson Tyler (35 tackles, 1 TFL), Braden Schwartz (26 tackles, 5 TFL) and Marcus Morelan (25 tackles, 7 TFL).
The Buckaroos are led offensively by quarterback Owen Woodard, running backs Anson Rogers and Jonas Arellano, and receivers Aaryn Medina, Kyla Canada, Tristan Garcia and Kooper Shook.
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 6-point underdog.