EARLY — The greatest obstacle standing between the Early Longhorns and a third straight district championship is No. 5 Coleman. For the Bluecats, the Longhorns pose the biggest threat to their undefeated record.
Sole possession of first place and a potential District 6-2A title will be on the line Friday when Coleman (7-0, 4-0) invades McDonald Field to face Early (4-3, 4-0) at 7:30 p.m. The Longhorns escaped with a wild 29-26 double-overtime win at Hufford Field last season.
“Who knows what will happen,” said Early head coach Robbie Tindol. “Two undefeated teams are going to play with a district championship riding on it. Anything can happen. Our kids have risen to the occasion in big ball games before and this is surely going to be one Friday night. There’s a lot at stake, and our kids will come ready to play.”
Both the Longhorns and Bluecats have carried the banner for the district in postseason play the last two years, advancing several rounds deep. Coleman has lost to Early the past two seasons, though, and will be looking to unseat the Longhorns as the top team in 6-2A. Early, meanwhile, is not ready to concede that the Bluecats are the best the district has to offer.
“The kids have been waiting on this game for a long time,” Tindol said. “This is going to be a big showdown of undefeated teams in our district. We won’t have any problems getting up for this game.”
After an 0-3 start against the likes of No. 2 Cisco, Crawford and Class 3A Clyde, Early has racked up four straight district wins. The Longhorns have outscored their district foes an average of 35-9.
“We feel like we’re in midseason form and things are starting to click for us,” Tindol said. “The kids have become familiar with what the others are going to do. We needed to get some games under our belt to know how each other was going to play. I feel like we’re heading in a good direction.”
Coleman strolled through a non-district schedule that included Brady, Winters and Rotan, then did not allow a point over its first 11 quarters of district play. The Bluecats have outscored their league foes an average of 38-5.
It has been mentioned that if the teams’ non-district schedules were flip-flopped, their records would be as well. That won’t matter Friday night, however, as the best team will be decided on the gridiron.
The Longhorns do, however, feel their pre-district schedule has helped them prepare for what’s in store Friday night.
“Our non-district schedule is paying already,” Tindol said. “It taught the kids how to come together. If you’re not in tough situations like that, you really don’t know a lot about your team. Now that the kids have come together and are having fun, there’s a lot of exciting football being played. They feel like they are starting to get good at the right time.”
Defensively, the Longhorns have allowed a touchdown or less in every district game but one. But Tindol and company realize Coleman is the most explosive offense the Longhorns will face in district.
“They have several weapons on offense and they’re a threat anytime they have the ball,” Tindol said. “They have fast running backs, the offensive line blocks well, and when they do throw the ball, Dalton Deleon in a sure fire threat with the long ball or out in space.
“Colton Buzzard’s ability to throw and scramble keeps you on pins and needles every time he rolls out. He can turn a busted play into a big play, so we have to keep our guard up and not let them get loose and and make a big play.”
Buzzard has connected on 43-of-88 passes for 624 yards with just one interception, while rushing for 524 yards. Deleon has hauled in a team-high 28 catches for 223 yards, while Bronson Buzzard leads Coleman with 605 yards rushing.
Early’s offense has become more dangerous by the week as the passing game is finally catching up with the rushing attack. The Longhorns are averaging 34.5 points per game in district after scoring no more than 17 points in any non-district contest.
Quarterback Nick Lyle has completed 62-of-131 passes for 1,010 yards with 11 touchdowns and only six interceptions. In the last two games alone, Lyle has thrown for 471 yards and eight scores.
Receiver Austin Cochran (12 catches for 224 yards) is expected to miss the game with an injury, but Lyle has plenty of other options. Cody Bullard has overtaken Cochran for the team lead in receptions (13-262) and has caught six passes for 138 yards and a pair of touchdowns the last two games. Seth Coolbaugh and John Moore have also grabbed a pair of scoring tosses, while Cameron King and Ben Hager each had touchdown catches the last two games.
“The passing game always takes a while to develop,” Tindol said. “It’s still not to the point we think it needs to be, but I have seen a lot of improvement. The kids still want to run the ball, but it’s good when you have both aspects of your game working.”
Collin Rome continues to lead the Longhorns with 811 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, but Bo Ross helped carry the load in last week’s 35-7 win at Wall. Rome ran for 94 yards and a touchdown, while Ross finished with 92 yards and a score.
“Those guys really complement each other well,” Tindol said. “They have experience back there, but they also both play defense. This gives us a chance to get one of them off the field whenever we want to.”
Tindol stated the recent success the Longhorns have enjoyed both on the ground and through the air would not be possible without the play of the offensive line. Controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball will be crucial in Early’s bid for a victory Friday night.
“The line is the true key for us,” Tindol said. “They’ve been playing pretty solid for a while now and this will be another good test for our linemen to see how good they are and how far they’ve come. Both offensively and defensively we’re going to have to control the line of scrimmage.”
In what appears to be a game of evenly matched squads, special teams could prove to be the difference. Tindol and company are certainly concentrating on that aspect of the game in an attempt to gain an advantage.
“First and foremost our kicking game has to be solid,” Tindol said. “In a game like this, the kicking game can either be a big spark, or it can blow up in your face.”