Bangs Dragons look to build on last year's breakout season

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
Bangs runs out onto the field before the Dragons' game against Winters. Bangs beat the Blizzards 42-19 in the nondistrict game Friday, Sept. 11 2020, at Blizzard Stadium.

The Bangs Dragons enjoyed their best finish in seven years in 2020 – winning nine games, averaging 42 points per start and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

But 14 seniors from last season have moved on, and Bangs begins this year with just three offensive and three defensive starters returning from a 9-2 team. Still, the Dragons are picked second or third in District 2-3A Division II in most preseason polls, which would send Bangs to its third consecutive playoff appearance.

“It seems like we’ll be starting someone new at almost every position,” said Kyle Maxfield, 18-14 in the last three seasons as the Bangs head coach. “But I feel like we set the standard last year with a strong senior class that won nine games. Now, we expect the younger players to step up. It’s their time.”

The Dragons’ three most experienced players are offensive lineman Warren Theriaque, running back Guy Powell and receiver Damion Santillanes. Hunter Bernal and Azreal Escobedo gained some experience in the line last season.

Bangs sophomore safety Guy Powell (20) points to the sideline following his interception as teammate Evan Belez (4) comes to celebrate in a game against Hawley Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, at Dragon Memorial Stadium in Bangs.

The top two quarterback candidates are sophomores. Kade Minshew quarterbacked the JV team last year while Zack Ferguson transferred over from six-man Brookesmith.

“I’m sure we’ll have some growing pains because of our inexperience, but you’ve got to start some place,” Maxfield said. “Last year was a culmination of three years in the same program. When I’ve had teams in the past that made a good run, there’s a residue that remains there for the players coming back to build from. That’s a lot better situation to be in than starting over from scratch.”

The 2020 Dragons only lost to a 10-win Ballinger team and eventual state champion Canadian. Bangs outscored its opponents by an average of 42-17. But the Dragons lost an 1,800-yard rusher, a 1,600-yard passer, and a 600-yard receiver from last season.

Bangs' Damien Santillanes returns the game's opening kickoff for an 88-yard touchdown against Winters. The Dragons won the game 42-19 on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, at Blizzard Stadium.

Besides Minshew and Ferguson at quarterback, Powell figures to be the featured running back after getting just 29 carries last year. He also caught four touchdown passes in 2020. Powell could even take some direct snaps in a Wildcat package, Maxfield said.

Santillanes had more than 340 yards rushing and receiving last year, but except for the Dragons’ two-back package, he figures to be more of a receiver in 2021.

Braxton Melling, who kicked 44 of 50 extra-point attempts last year, is the top tight end candidate. Hunter Newton and Guy Funk are other receiver prospects.

Bangs kicker Braxton Melling (81) kicks off against Hawley on Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, at Dragon Memorial Stadium in Bangs.

Joining Theriaque, Escobedo, and Bernal in the line are several prospects – including Donavan Ruiz, Luke Duncan, David Herrera, Isaiah Serrato, and Noah Pin.

“The offensive line will be a work in progress,” Maxfield said. “Last year, we had a lot of experience in the line. Most of them were three-year starters. A lot of our new ones this year are juniors, and they got a lot of snaps on the JV last year.”

The defensive line prospects include the same names as the offensive line. Bernal is the lone line returnee with significant experience on defense. Theriaque was able to focus on offense last season, but he’ll be asked to play on the offensive and defensive lines in 2021. Help will come from Melling, Ruiz, Escobedo, Duncan, Herrera, Serrano and Pin.

Bangs coach Kyle Maxfield, center, talks to quarterback Ethan Cortez before the Dragons' game against Winters. Bangs beat the Blizzards 42-19 in the nondistrict game Friday, Sept. 11 2020, at Blizzard Stadium.

Santillanes returns at linebacker, but there are no seniors among the other linebacker candidates. That list includes juniors Keygan Pitts and Caedmon Tidwell, along with sophomores Ian Cortez, Ethan Ethridge, and Sergio Lopez.

Powell returns in the secondary, but the other defensive backs will be new to the lineup. That group includes Newton, Funk, Ferguson, Nate Stoffer, and Weston Jundt.

“Besides filling holes in the lineup, we’re looking for some leadership,” Maxfield said. “That senior group was so strong and dominant last year. They were great leaders, but now, they’re gone. We’ve only got about seven seniors this year, so we need some leaders to emerge.”

Even though Bangs is rebuilding, so is defending district champ Ballinger, which returns six starters from last year’s 10-2 team. Sonora and Brady return a lot of players, but both finished 4-7 last year. Ingram Moore and Grape Creek complete the six-team district.

“The district looks pretty wide open right now,” Maxfield said. “Ballinger returns their quarterback, so that might give them a leg up on everybody. But as far as returning experience, we’re in about the same situation as they are.”

A Bangs player looks out on the field before the Dragons' game against Winters. Bangs beat the Blizzards 42-19 in the nondistrict game Friday, Sept. 11 2020, at Blizzard Stadium.

2021 Bangs football schedule

Date                Opponent                               Time

Aug. 27           at Early                                   7:30 p.m.

Sept. 3             Florence                                  7:30 p.m.

Sept. 10           Winters                                   7:30 p.m.

Sept. 17           at Hamilton                             7 p.m.

Sept. 24           at Hawley                                7:30 p.m.

Oct. 1              Open

Oct. 8              Grape Creek*                          7 p.m.

Oct. 15            at Ingram Moore*                   7 p.m.

Oct. 22            Sonora*                                   7 p.m.

Oct. 29            Ballinger*                               7 p.m.

Nov. 5             at Brady*                                7 p.m.

*District 2-3A Division II games