EARLY — The Early Longhorns conclude their 2019 football campaign at 7:30 p.m. Friday with perhaps their greatest challenge of the season — a road trip to battle the undefeated Wall Hawks, freshly ranked No. 1 in Class 3A Division I by Dave Campbell's Texas Football website.
With last week's 45-22 home loss to Jim Ned, Early (3-6, 0-4) was officially eliminated from postseason contention. The Longhorns' last trip to the playoffs occurred in 2008.
Wall (9-0, 4-0), meanwhile, is coming off a 20-6 victory over a one-win Breckenridge squad, but played with a heavily-depleted roster.
The Longhorns flashed in spurts against Jim Ned, according to fifth-year head coach Blake Sandford, but putting a full four quarters together has continued to elude Early in games against district competition.
“I certainly think the second half we had a good half,” Sandford said. “We put up 20 points, it was more evenly matched, we had more first downs than they did and matched them in scoring. If you eliminate the start to the first half it was a really, really good ball game with some opportunities to win the game. Again, we need to put four quarters together.”
As for the challenge that awaits playing the top-ranked team in the state, Sandford said, “Like we've always said we can't control everything but we can control our effort and attitude. We want to go out and play the best we can and see what happens. You never know in the game of football or any athletic competition. Just go out and do your best and keep putting good things together and hopefully some of the momentum we built in the second half against Jim Ned will carry over to this week.”
Offensively, the Longhorns are averaging 23 points and 342 yards — 192 rushing and 150 passing — per outing. Quarterback Brent Grooms has connected on 97 of 171 passes for 1,255 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Last week, Jesson Tarrant came on at quarterback and went 8 of 12 for 100 yards and two scores.
On the ground, weapons include Tre Beam (450 yards, 5 TDs), Grooms (400 yards, 7 TDs), Alex Jacobs (388 yards, 4 TDs), Cale Wade (320 yards), and Tarrant (143 yards, TD). Receiving threats are Timmy Smithson (50-922, 10 TDs), Beam (14-97), Carlos Moreno (11-114, 3 TDs), Rylie Hill (11-55), Tarrant (8-40), Jacobs (5-36), and Jeramiah Fowler (4-62).
Defensively, Early is yielding 33 points and 371 yards — 229 rushing and 142 passing — per game.
Leading the charge are Beam (100 tackles, 10 TFL, 1 sack, 1 FR), Ryan Jones (74 tackles, 6 TFL, 1.5 sacks), Reece Bolton (57 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, FR), Sebastian Perez (43 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR), Tyson Tyler (43 tackles, 1 TFL), Braden Schwartz (35 tackles, 6 TFL), Timmy Smithson (34 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT), Marcus Morelan (31 tackles, 8 TFL) and John-Stewart Gordon (23 tackles, 1 TFL).
The Hawks offense is racking up 28 points and 355 yards per outing, with 278 yards coming on the ground.
Leading rushers include Chase Rios (713 yards, 5 TDs), Kye Herbert (427 yards, 2 TDs), Mason Fuchs (407 yards, 8 TDs), Grady McCrea (272 yards, TD) and Bryson Ballard (264 yards, 2 TDs). Fuchs has thrown for 590 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions, while leading receivers include Connor Dierschke (25-398, 7 TDs), Caleb Heuertz (5-77, TD) and Rios (4-64).
Wall's defense allows just 6 points per game on average with 20 takeaways, 67 tackles for loss and 23 sacks. The Hawks are led by Drew Morrison (94 tackles, 7 for loss, 2 INTs, 2 FRs), Colton Diebitsch (79 tackles, 7 for loss, 2 INTs), Ballard (72 tackles, 8 for loss), Taven Espinosa (68 tackles, 3 for loss) and Fedor (67 tackles, 4 for loss, 1 FR).
“On film they look very similar to what they look like every year,” Sandford said. “They run an offense that we don't see a whole lot so we have to be prepared for that. They look like they fly around well on defense, so we need to make sure we play mistake-free ball.”
As for the impact of pulling off an upset in the season finale, Sandford said, “It'd be a great finish to a lot of hard work these guys have done all year and a springboard for next year as well.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 38-point underdog.