Midway through the season already, Buddy McBryde believes his Ellison Eagles have yet to show what they’re truly capable of.
And, if the first two weeks of the District 8-5A slate are any indication, Harker Heights head coach Mike Mullins isn’t certain what to make of his Knights, either.
“I hope it’s the team that showed up (in a 7-0 shutout of Belton),” Mullins said, as opposed to the mistake-filled 28-7 loss to Killeen last Friday.
One of the two underperforming inter-city rivals will get a chance to change their fortune tonight when the Knights (1-4, 1-1 8-5A) and Eagles (0-5, 0-2) square off at 6:30 p.m. at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“They can change everything in this one ball game,” McBryde said. “They can change their season, they can change everything (with a win). My first year here, we beat a district opponent after opening with two losses and went on to go three rounds deep (in the playoffs).”
Although the playoffs are still a long ways off, just the thought of potentially emerging as one of the top four out of 8-5A has both teams filled with hope.
“As the district goes, you probably take Midway and Cove right now and separate them from the pack. But from there, who knows?” Mullins said.
If the Eagles, losers of 15 consecutive games, are to prove themselves capable of making such a drastic turn, a key could lie in whether or not Ellison can score on its opening drive after advancing deep inside enemy territory in all but one game.
“We have driven down (several) weeks in a row and we have managed somehow to stop ourselves,” McBryde said. “We want to score on our opening drive of each half, that’s always one of our goals and something we’re emphasizing this week to get the ball rolling.”
Harker Heights, though, has been particularly stingy early, not allowing any team to score on their first offensive series all season.
But so far this season, it’s been the dearth of offense that has stymied both Heights and Ellison.
Both make up the district’s two least productive offenses, with the Knights scoring up just 24 points through the first five games (an average of 4.8) compared to the Eagles’ 56 total points scored (11.2 average).
Ellison, which has averaged 214 rushing yards per game, has been led by bruising workhorse Isiah Cowan (669 rushing yards, 5 TDs), who has eclipsed 200 yards in each of the first two district games so far and ranks fourth in 8-5A for the season.
“He gives us the opportunity to do all the things we’re trying to do,” McBryde said.
Heights, which has been abysmal offensively averaging just 227 total yards per game, is hoping to get a lift from the return of defending 12-5A newcomer of the year Marcus Anderson II this week.
A complete tailback with the unique combination of speed and power, Anderson II came on late last year to rush for 436 yards and five touchdowns.
But after breaking a non weight-bearing bone in his left leg during the final preseason scrimmage in late August, he has been on the shelf rehabbing.
“Seeing him on the practice field, it’s been really good, his speed’s been good,” Mullins said of Anderson II.
“The biggest thing for him is going to be his conditioning. But he’s worked hard, runs after practice to get some more in, so I think he’ll be fine.”
Anderson II should provide a singular backfield threat for Heights, which has managed a district-worst 777 rushing (4.4 yards per rush) behind the senior combination of Terance Goodwin and Tyler Brown, who each have cracked the 100-yard mark just once this season.
The Knights have been even worse through the air, passing for just 360 yards while throwing 10 interceptions.
The return of Anderson should help that along by taking pressure off sophomore quarterback Troy Smith (197 passing yards, 1-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio) and an injury-depleted offensive line that’s missing all-state center Darius James among others.
Of course, for the players involved, the annual cross-town showdown amounts to more than just winning and losing Friday.
“It’s bragging rights at the mall for a year,” McBryde said.