EARLY — A promising first half resulted in a third straight District 3-3A Division I loss last week for the Early Longhorns, whose playoff hopes were dashed with the defeat. Heading into Friday’s season finale, the Longhorns can only hope to play spoiler to the Comanche Indians, who are attempting to clinch a second straight outright district championship.
Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday at Longhorn Stadium.
Early (3-6, 1-3) led Merkel 14-7, but surrendered the final six touchdowns in a 48-14 loss.
“We came out fired up, we just had some unfortunate things happen,” said Early third-year head coach Blake Sandford. “We played a good team and you can’t make mistakes like we did.”
Though the playoffs aren’t a possibility, the chance to improve still exists for Early in its season finale.
“The last home game presents another opportunity for us to try and get better, regardless of the opponent,” Sandford said. “We know Comanche is having a good season but that’s irrelevant to what we need to do to an extent. What we need to do is try and get better every day and work very hard to put ourselves in a position to win the ball game.”
Comanche, which is coming off a 56-34 victory over winless Brady, is averaging 37 points and 402 yards — 318 rushing and 84 passing — per contest, while giving up 13 points on average.
Colton Roberts leads the ground attack with 1,347 yards and 16 touchdowns while other contributors out of the backfield include Kade Mercer (602 yards, 6 TDs), Zach Foster (276 yards 2 TDs), Jameson Allen (220 yards, 2 TDs), Jeremy Bostick (180 yards, 2 TDs) and Joseph Gilligan (146, 4 TDs).
Quarterback Bronte Hermesmeyer has connected on 35 of 65 passes for 616 yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception, while leading receivers include Trevor Higginbotham (23-491, 5 TDs) and Jayton McGinnis (9-128, 2 TDs).
Early counters with a defense that allows 35 points and 394 yards — 253 rushing and 141 passing — per game, with 16 takeaways.
Standouts include Miguel Elizondo (127 tackles, 5 for loss, INT), Brandon Lombrano (70 tackles, 1 for loss), Jadyn Lehde (59 tackles, 1 for loss, 2 FRs), Chase Keilers (54 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 sack, 5 FRs), Devyn Burns (49 tackles, 1 FR, 1 INT), Teddy Ozuna (47 tackles, 2 for loss), Hayden Barker (37 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 sack), John Griffin (37 tackles, 6 for loss, 1 sack, 1 FR), Ethan Rhodes (33 tackles, INT), Mason Flippin (31 tackles), Jose Pesina (31 tackles, 1 FR) and Jonathan Morales (28 tackles, 1 INT).
“Offensively what concerns us about Comanche is they come off the ball very hard and very fast,” Sandford said. “They have a strong power running game. They do split it out and air it out some, but their bread and butter is their running game and they take great pride in that. And we have to get better at stopping the run.”
On the flip side, the Longhorns are generating 19 points and 298 yards — 183 passing and 115 rushing — per contest, with 16 turnovers.
Quarterback Ryan Trompler has completed 173 of 292 passes for 1,654 yards with nine touchdowns and eight interceptions while also rushing for a team-best 497 yards and 10 touchdowns. Leading receivers include Ty Schafer (53-379, TD), Rowdy Elkins (41-485, 4 TDs), Jesson Tarrant (38-296, TD), Burns (17-245, 3 TDs) and Jim Fowler (17-173). Other options out of the backfield include Tarrant (200 rushing yards, 2 TDs), Barker (180 yards) and Pesina (125 yards, 2 TDs).
The Comanche defensive leaders include Roberts (71 tackles, 12 for loss, 4 sacks), Mercer (60 tackles, 3 INTs), Gavin Farrar (50 tackles, six for loss) and Trendon Morin (41 tackles). Up front, Moses Garcia and Matthew Hamilton have recorded five sacks each while Dakoda Moreno has tallied four.
“Defensively they fly to the ball and have big ol’ kids,” Sandford said. “They have quite a bit going for them as far as stopping the run and the pass with the way they line up. Our main thing is to do the things we do pretty good, to keep doing them and do them better for a full 48 minutes.
“We had 15 first downs and close to 350 yards of offense last week, but we still have to get better at all phases of the execution whether it’s special teams, defense, or offense. We need to get further along than where we are right now.”
As for what it would mean to pull off an upset and finish the season with a win, Sandford said, “It would certainly be a springboard for our development in the offseason and moving forward for next year. It’d also be a fitting tribute to our seniors who have worked very hard and bought into the program.”
Last year, Comanche dished out a 44-0 loss to Early.
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Early is a 58-point underdog.