EARLY — The Early Longhorns look to snap a four-game slide and notch their first District 3-3A Division I victory, while the Jim Ned Indians are looking to end their own two-game drought Friday night.
Kickoff between Early (3-5, 0-3) and Jim Ned (6-2, 1-2) is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Longhorn Stadium.
“Regardless of the result, I'll stand alongside these kids and the character and effort that they've shown and I wouldn't want to go into battle with anybody different,” said Early head coach Blake Sandford, whose team is seeking its first win since a 63-0 homecoming victory over Hico on Sept. 27. “These kids have fought hard all year and will continue to do so, that's just the type of kids they are. These coaches have done a great job working very hard to put these kids in really good positions to win. What we've got to do, even through good times and bad times, is continue to take positive steps forward.”
The Longhorns have come up short in league action against Eastland (59-23), Clyde (33-0) and Breckenridge (40-7), but Sandford and company have found positives to build on despite the outcomes.
“In the last game I was pleased with our discipline,” Sandford said of the Breckenridge contest. “We only had two penalties so I'm really proud of the fact they were disciplined. We generated some offense and got some stops on defense. We've continued to do some things in pockets that have shown we can play ball. The key for us is to put it all together and that's what we're looking for and striving for.”
Early is averaging 23 points and 342 yards — 187 rushing and 155 passing — per outing.
Quarterback Brent Grooms has completed 95 of 167 passes for 1,238 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions, while rushing for 405 yards and seven scores. Tre Beam (448 yards, 5 TDs) leads all Longhorn rushers while Alex Jacobs (356 yards, 4 TDs) and Cale Wade (226 yards) have also made key contributions. Receiving threats include Timmy Smithson (45-853, 9 TDs), Beam (12-80), Rylie Hill (11-55), Carlos Moreno (8-83, 2 TDs), Jesson Tarrant (8-40), Jacobs (5-36) and Jeramiah Fowler (4-62).
Defensively, the Longhorns are yielding 32 points and 363 yards — 217 rushing and 146 passing — per game.
Leading tacklers include Beam (92 tackles, 9 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR), Ryan Jones (69 tackles, 5 TFL, 1.5 sacks), Reece Bolton (54 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, FR), Sebastian Perez (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR), Tyson Tyler (38 tackles, 1 TFL), Braden Schwartz (32 tackles, 5 TFL), Marcus Morelan (29 tackles, 7 TFL), Smithson (26 tackles, 1 INT) and Fowler (21 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR).
Jim Ned is coming into the contest having suffered back-to-back losses to Wall and Clyde by identical 14-7 scores. Prior to the two losses, the Indians had reeled off six straight victories, including four shutouts. For the year, Jim Ned averages 34 points and 364 yards — 221 rushing and 143 passing — per game, while allowing 8 points.
Quarterback Dylan Martin has connected on 83 of 133 passes for 1,139 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions for the Indians, while leading receivers include Zach Henderson (27-312, TD), Jamin Harwell (24-326, 6 TDs) and Cade Ford (12-244, TD). Leading the way on the ground for the Indians are Reese Hayes (514 yards, 10 TDs), Xavier Wishert (481 yards, 3 TDs), Riley Perry (431 yards, 10 TDs), Martin (178 yards 2 TDs) and Joshua Kelso (124 yards, 2 TDs).
Defensive standouts for Jim Ned — which has tallied 16 takeaways, 48 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks — include Kade Kimmer (87 tackles, 9 for loss), Wishert (70 tackles, 3 for loss), Reese Hayes (67 tackles, 10 for loss) and Rylan Hayes (66 tackles, 68 for loss).
As for the key to coming away with a victory Friday night, Sandford said, “We need to win the turnover battle, create turnovers, and be secure with the ball. We need to win the line scrimmage, execute our offense and move the chains, get first downs and control the clock. On defense we need to get some stops and get them off the field, make them punt the ball. We need to win on first down and win on third down. That's the main key for us, that's what we've been working on this week. “
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 34-point underdog.
“We haven't gone into any game thinking we can't win and that we weren't going to give it our best shot,” Sandford said. “We'll continue to do that these next two games as well. We do expect to win, we work to put ourselves in a position to win and be successful, we just need to start fast and keep things going.”