EARLY — The No. 5-ranked Coleman Bluecats came in averaging 43.3 points per game. On Friday night, the Early Longhorns’ defense held Coleman without a touchdown until the fourth quarter.
The Bluecats finished with a flurry, scoring two touchdowns in the final 11:34, but Early held on for a 20-18 win at McDonald Field. The victory was Early’s fifth straight after an 0-3 start and gave the Longhorns (5-3, 5-0) sole possession of first place in District 6-2A with two regular-season games remaining.
Coleman fell to 7-1, 4-1.
“Our defense did a fabulous job all night,” said Early coach Robbie Tindol, whose team finishes with San Saba and Ballinger. “When we started this year, our defense had to find out who was going to do what and who was going to come through. They had some tough games early (allowing 89 points in the first three games), but this was just a great game for them tonight.”
Collin Rome rushed for 136 yards, including touchdowns of 11 and 7 yards to give Early’s defense the cushion it needed. The 190-pound junior finished a drive in the final 22 seconds of the first half with the 11-yard touchdown, which staked the Longhorns to a 10-6 halftime lead.
Then Rome finished Early’s opening drive of the third quarter with a 7-yard run as the Longhorns extended their lead to 17-6 over the Bluecats, whose average victory margin prior to Friday was 35 points.
“I’m so happy I can’t think right now,” said Rome, who also played linebacker on defense. “Our goal at the half was to come out and score on our first possession of second half and then just hold ‘em on defense from there.”
Early’s lead peaked at 20-6 on Mitchell Bailey’s 25-yard field goal with 5:14 left in the third quarter. That score came after Shane Morris intercepted Coleman quarterback Colton Buzzard at the Longhorns’ 31-yard line.
Coleman came roaring back, though. Stymied for the opening 46 minutes, the Bluecats drove 80 yards in eight plays to start their rally. Colton Buzzard completed three consecutive passes to Corbin Brooks — one to convert a fourth-and-3 and another for a 7-yard touchdown — to pull Coleman within 20-12 with 11:34 to play.
John Moore blocked Oscar Villeda’s extra-point kick, however, leaving Early’s lead at eight points.
“That play was huge,” Tindol said. “John has been close to blocking a kick all year. He has a quick takeoff, and we have a good scheme designed to get a block. They practice those things. That just didn’t happen.”
Early later drove to Coleman’s 23 before N’Difone Agbor sacked Longhorns quarterback Nick Lyle for a 14-yard loss. Lyle punted Coleman back to its 6, but the Bluecats came out punching.
After gaining a first down, Colton Buzzard rolled right, then burst into the secondary and cut across the field on the way to an 82-yard touchdown run. The score pulled the Bluecats within 20-18 with 3:37 left. On the extra-point attempt, Early rushed Colton Buzzard hard, forcing him to pass before he wanted. Fullback Bronson Buzzard had to dive for the low throw, making the catch at the 1-yard line and leaving Early in the lead.
“Early just wore us down,” Coleman coach Rusty Buzzard said of his team’s lack of offense during the first three quarters. “They had a good club, they really do.”
Coleman got the ball one final time at its 27 with 1:52 left. Colton Buzzard rolled out to pass, however, and was stripped of the ball. Early’s Karlton Keesee recovered at the Bluecats’ 35 with 1:19 left, and the Longhorns finally could celebrate their upset.
“We knew this would be a pressure-cooker of a game,” Tindol said. “Our kids believe they can play with anybody, and they showed it tonight.
“Coleman runs that sprint-out so well, and (Colton) Buzzard is a deadly runner. He can tuck that ball and reverse his field and make a lot of people miss like he did on that (82-yard) run tonight.”
The Bluecats drove to the Longhorns’ 13 and 10 on two first-half possessions, but had to settle for field goals by Villeda each time and a 6-3 second-quarter lead.
“They (Bluecats) are used to scoring a bunch of points,” Tindol said. “They’ve had 40 points at the half in some of their games. To make them settle for three points in those situations was big for our defense.”
Lyle passed for 175 yards for Early, completed passes to seven different receivers. Moore and Cody Bullard combined for seven catches for 127 yards.
Colton Buzzard finished with 117 yards rushing and 111 yards passing for Coleman. The Longhorns’ defense limited Bronson Buzzard, who came in averaging 86 yards rushing per game, to 43 yards on 14 carries.