Shallowater turns Early mistakes into points, corrals Longhorns in 3A area round
CLYDE — Shallowater rushed for 284 yards and returned a fumble 39 yards and an interception 40 yards for touchdowns to smother Early 43-14 in a Class 3A Division I area-round game on a windy night.
The Mustangs gallop to the Region I semifinals to play Whitesboro, which outscored Bushland 41-21.
A week after blitzing Pilot Point with 29 first-quarter points, Early mistakes allowed Shallowater to take a 23-0 lead into halftime. Despite changing its game plan in the second half and wracking up the first downs, Early fell behind 43-0 before scoring.
Shallowater's ground game was efficient and spread among eight rushers. The longest play was 21 yards but only two lost yards.
"They did a good job up front. We knew they were going to be big and physical," Early coach Daniel Price said. "We knew they were fast. They did a great job up front. That was a big challenge for us and handled it at times, and at times we didn't."
Shallowater coach Rodney Vincent said his team's line play, both on offense and defense, was the key to the game.
"It really starts up front and I'm really proud of our offensive line," he said. "That's a really good defensive line we played tonight. They're really fast and quick and they did a good job of cutting off our running lanes. Just really proud of our offensive kids. It starts up front for us."
Early ends a breakout season at 9-3. Last week, the Longhorns won their first playoff game in 14 years by beating Pilot Point in bi-district. Nine wins is a season hallmark, too.
Ahead 16-0 and holding Early without a first down, Brett Hall returned a fumble down the visitor sideline at the 6:47 mark of the second quarter to give Shallowater a 23-0 halftime lead.
In the first quarter, Shallowater recorded nine first downs while Early ran nine plays.
After missing a couple of wide-open pass plays down the middle, Shallowater quarterback Garrett Foerster went 34 yards to Major McCully to give his team a 13-0 lead.
"When they run the ball as well as they do, they lull you to sleep and they slip that guy by you and all of sudden he's running down the middle of the field scott-free," Price said. "Good job to them. We knew it was coming and I hoped we'd cover it better.
"That's why they are who they are, a very good football team."
The Mustangs' back-to-back touchdowns midway through the first quarter set the tone for first three quarters of the game, dominated by the Panhandle team.
The Mustangs poured it on in the third quarter with three more touchdowns to build a 43-0 advantage. The final two scores were the interception return by Raston Copeland just over a minute after a Shallowater touchdown and a 30-yard run around left end by Cannon Reed with 1:06 left in the quarter.
Early went to the short pass throughout the second half and broke the shutout in the fourth quarter. John-Stewart Gordon caught a 21-yard TD pass from Jaxyn Price midway through the fourth, and Franky Villarreal ran 17 yards for a TD with just over a minute to play.
Price threw 13 passes in the first half but 27 in the second half in hopes of rallying the Longhorns. He was picked off three times.
He finished 172 yards passing, hitting seven straight short ones after opening the second half with an incompletion.
Vincent was impressed with Early's relentless attack and how his players reacted.
"They have done a really good job with those kids," he said. "The thing I was proud of is we struggled stopping the pass last week (a 56-18 win over Dalhart) but I was really proud of us early matching up to their routes and doing a good job in the secondary. It starts up front with a good pass rush and our guys were active in the backfield, so I was really proud of the way we defended the pass."
Early had only two first downs in the first half but piled up 13 in the second half as the passing attack slowly moved the chains (manned by volunteers because the regular crew did not show).
Gordon had 8 catches for 96 to lead his team.
Eight Mustangs carried the football at least once Friday for Shallow, with Keegan Campbell leading the way with 96 yards on 14 carries.
Tre Beam, a senior, led Early with 88 yards on 14 carries.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, Price is determined to keep Early's resurgence going.
"We've got to keep moving up. It's fun to be where we're at, it's to have all the attention, it's fun to win nine football games," Price said. "We're changing what Early's all about. To have that success last year and this year to have another great year was a lot of fun.
"We bring back quite a bit so we have a lot that we're excited about. We're going to graduate some really big pieces but we have some guys coming. We're excited about what this is going to look like next year."
Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
► Turning point: Early held Shallowater to a field goal to keep it a two-score game midway through the second but turned the ball over two plays into its next drive. Tre Beam went for yard on 2nd-and-2 but lost the football. Brett Hall scooped it up and ran 39 yards for a touchdown to make it 23-0.
► Players of the game: Offensive line, Shallowater – Coach Rodney Vincent said his team's rushing success was due to the Mustangs handling a quick and touch Early defensive front. The Mustangs had one rush that lost a yard and another that lost 6 when the back fumbled the pitch, then recovered.
► Key stat: Two penalties for 10 yards. After forcing Shallowater to put on its first possession, a false start turned a 3rd-and-5 into a 3rd-and-10 and Early had to punt. After falling behind 6-0, Early saw a 3rd-and-2 become a 3rd-and-7 and again had to punt. Shallowater scored again to take a 13-0 lead and the momentum.
► Coach Daniel Price said: "We never got started. That's the frustrating part of it. I don't think we executed very well," he said, noting the two false start penalties that stopped drives before those could begin. "We never found that rhythm early on. Then you get that big turnover, the fumble and scoop-score that changed the momentum and we couldn't manage to grab it back. We did that last week to Pilot Point, and they turned around and did it to us this week. They have a really good football team."
► Impact: After winning its first playoff game since 2007, Early's season ends at 9-3. But players such as QB Price and receivers Gordon and Brown return.
► Up next: Shallowater plays Whitesboro in the Region I -3A Division I semifinals.
CLASS 3A DIVISION I AREA ROUND
Shallowater 43, Early 0
Early … 0 … 0 … 0 … 14 – 14
Shallowater … 13 …10 …20 …0 – 43
SHA - Kaleb Cox 7 run (kick failed), 5:27
SHA - Major McCully 34 pass from Garrett Foerster (Clayton Vincent kick), 3:26
SHA - Vincent 24 FG, 7:29
SHA - Brett Hall 39 fumble return (Vincent kick),
SHA - Foerster 18 run (kick failed), 6:43
SHA - Raston Copeland 40 interception return (Vincent kick), 5:30
EAR - John-Stewart Gordon 21 pass from Jaxyn Price (Frank Villarreal kick), 5:51
EAR - Villarreal 17 run (Villarreal kick), 1:20
……………… EAR … SHA
First downs … 15 … 17
Rushes-Yards … 28-146… 40-284
Passing … 172 … 71
Comp-Att-Int …… 20-40-3 … 5-12-0
Punts …… 2-37.0 … 4-22.8
Fumbles-Lost … 2-1 … 1-0
Penalties-Yards … 8-81… 3-15
RUSHING: Early, Tre Beam 14-88, Frank Villarreal 5-36, Jaxyn Price 9-22. Shallowater, Keegan Campbell 14-96, Kaleb Cox 5-63, Cannon Reed 6-54, Garrett Foerster 5-39 Trevor Winn 3-37, Chris Salazar 1-6, Majuor McCulley 1-1, Luke Fisher 3-minus 2. Team 2-minus 10.
PASSING: Early, Price 20-40-3-172. Shallowater, Foerster 5-12-0-71
RECEIVING: Early, John-Stewart Gordon 8-96, Jeremy Brown 7-58, Villarreal 2-8, Cedrick Morelan 2-7, Beam 3 yards (on pitch after Gordon's catch). Shallowater, McCulley 3-56, Cox 1-11, Salazar 1-4
RECORDS: Early 9-3, Shallowater 10-2