By BRAD KEITH
(October 19, 2017) — First-year Hico (4-2, 1-1) head coach Randy Thornton knows he can’t hate his team’s position through six games.
“You could definitely do a lot worse than only losing to Tolar and De Leon,” said Thornton. “Tolar has a really good team. We certainly didn’t play particularly well in that game, but I’m sure them being as good as they are was probably the biggest reason we didn’t play well.
“De Leon also has a very good team, and they have a new running back, Anthony Rangel, who’s just a man-child he really is. He’s tough to stop, you know, and I know they do have some guys going both ways, but he’s only playing offense. We won’t use this as an excuse, but just because of numbers our guys, pretty much all of them are paling on both sides of the ball and I think they kind of wore us down a bit there near the end.”
De Leon outscored Hico 13-0 in the fourth quarter after the Tigers had managed to control the clock with their option-based run-heavy offense to take a 14-14 tie into the fourth quarter.
Thornton was a state champion as a high school player at Stephenville and a five-time playoff qualifier including a run to the Region II-2A Division II final in 2014 during his 10 years as head coach at Santo. He’s well beyond needing moral victories to pick him up, so he surely was pleased to follow the De Leon game with an actual victory in his first Hamilton County rivalry contest.
The Tigers trailed in the early going but took the lead for good on a pair of Jacob Smith touchdowns in the second quarter, then iced the win with two Jordan Harrison field goals in the fourth for a 21-6 win over rival Hamilton.
Being his first year in Hico, Thornton said he was unaware field goal kicking was so rare for the Tigers.
“Since last Friday everybody’s been asking me about kicking two field goals in a quarter, and saying they had never seen that before,” he said. “I guessI just got lucky coming here when I did as far as that’s concerned, because Jordan moved here from Indiana and he’s played soccer and didn’t really have an interest in football until I asked him if he would just kick. As it’s turned out, he’s come in and done a really good job for us.”
Harrison field goals weren’t exactly chip shots by 2A standards. Each were longer than an extra point kick , the first from 27 yards out and the second a 31-yard effort.
Hico did one thing different than in previous outings – the Tigers let quarterback Briley Johnson pass the ball more. He was 6-9 for 117 yards without an interception after attempting only 16 passes with six picks in the first five games combined.
But the Tigers also continued to do something they done all year – perform well defensively under the tutelage of co-coordinators Matt Yanowski and Marcus Cook. So well, in fact, Hamilton had just 80 total yards and only five first downs while scoring early but being shut out over the last three plus quarters.
That strong defensive showing came on the heels of limiting the mighty Bearcat offense in De Leon to only 14 points through three quarters before one big play by Bearcat running back Rangel and an interception to set up a short field for a TD catch by Calvin Martin, the same player to make the interception.
The Tigers have limited opponents to 20 points and 205.2 yards per game, but take Tolar off the schedule and run those numbers again and it’s only 14.4 points and 171.8 yards.
The defense has been anchored by Smith, who has been involved 57 tackles, 23 of them solo including 13 tackles for loss. He has also recovered three fumbles a takeaway count matched by just one teammate – Brandon Luna with three interceptions. Grayson Holt has picked off two passes and broken up eight more, while Lunda has 7 PBUs. Cameron Brewer has a team-leading 3.5 sacks, and six Tigers have at least five tackles for loss.
Hico is a formidable favorite at Valley Mills Friday, but much like the game with Hamilton, it has to feel like a “must win” with Crawford and Goldthwaite still ahead. Opening kick is set for 7:30 p.m. at J.C. Larkin Athletic Complex.
“This district is loaded, it really is,” said Thornton. “You can’t afford to lose any you just flat out aren’t supposed to, that’s for sure.
While he’s confident his Tigers will take care of business, he’s also aware Valley Mills is due a win, and doesn’t want to be the victim when the Eagles do finally soar one Friday.
“You know, it’s really hard to go 10-0, but it’s also hard to go 0-10,” Thornton said. “We just need to take care of the ball s other don’t get any gifts or extra chances, and play our brand of solid, fundamental defense.”
Here is a look at some of Hico’s key team stats, offensive individual stats and defensive leaders:
Team – 23.2 points, 280.2 total yards (247.8 rushing, 32.4 passing) Opponent – 20, 205.2 total yards (86.2
Rushing – Briley Johnson 85-463, 7 TD; Jacob Smith 75-461, 8 TD; Cooper Conlee 40-220; Hunter Koonsman 50-210, 1 TD; Luc Hyles 13-56; Brandon Luna 6-51, 1 TD; Adrian Jimenez 8-30; Ryan Irvin 1-(-4)
Passing – Johnson 8-25-6, 164 yards, 0 TD; Conlee 1-1-0, 30 yards; Hyles 0-2-1
Receiving – Conlee 3-100; Grayson Holt 1-30; Smith 1-26; Jimenez 1-24; Koonsman 1-8; Hyles 1-4; Luna 1-2
Defense – Jacob Smith 57 Tkl, 13 TFL, 3 FR; Adrian Jimenez 45 Tkl, 5 TFL, Brandon Luna 3 Int, 7 PBU; Grayson Holt 2 Int, 8 PBU