It’s pinned outside the varsity locker room.
Hanging from the bulletin board on the wall adjacent from the locker room door, the pre-district standings show for all who pass by the difference — at least on paper — between the Eagles and their next opponent, Waco Midway.
In their first season in 5A, the 11th-ranked Panthers (3-0) are among the District 8-5A leaders in both team offense and team defense, while Ellison (0-3) is highlighted as second-to-last in both categories.
Yet, for Eagles coach Buddy McBryde and his players, when the two programs face off in the district opener at 7 p.m. tonight at Leo Buckley Stadium, the distinctions are only paper thin.
“We don’t think they’re any better than us,” McBryde said. “They have, in the first three games, obviously executed better than us. The challenge for us is to execute the way they do for 100 percent of the game. We’ve done that but not 100 percent of the games.
“That’s the difference between the two teams.”
The other glaring difference has to do with each programs’ recent tradition.
Midway is coming off a season in which it finished 13-2 and advanced to the Div. I-4A state title game, while Ellison is in the midst of a 13-game losing streak after going winless last season for only the second time in the school’s history.
“There’s a little bit of weight on us ... but as far as the 42 guys on this team, we’re coming to fight on Thursday and every other district game we have,” said running back Isiah Cowan.
“It is a monkey on our back right now, (but) we don’t discuss it, we just work at getting better and better each week,” McBryde added. “The kids are still positive, and we think we’ve made an awful lot of improvement in the off week.”
During the bye week, McBryde said the team focused on issues in the secondary that has been shredded for a district-worst 697 passing yards this season, sharpening up a passing game that has averaged less than 100 yards per game, and correcting blocking mistakes that have plagued the Eagles’ offensive line.
“The kids are working very hard to correct all the mistakes that we’ve made,” McBryde said. “And we haven’t made that many, but the ones we have, have been pretty costly for us.”
Midway enters its first foray into Class 5A district play with the third-best rushing and second-best passing attack, led by senior quarterback Kramer Robertson (580 passing yards, 5 TDs) and receiver Hunter Jarmon (286 yards, 2 TDs), who has more than a dozen outstanding Division I offers.
“Offensively, the scheme they run is designed to get your secondary to suck up and then throw over their heads — a lot of play-actions, a lot of bubble screens and pump fakes — and they do it very well,” McBryde said.
But while the offense has been explosive, it’s been the Panthers’ stout defense that could cause the Eagles trouble, holding opponents to an average of just 155.3 yards and 13.7 points per game — both district-lows. Midway is limiting opposing teams to nearly 100 yards less per game than the second-best defense in Harker Heights, which is allowing 254.3 yards per contest.
McBryde’s plan to attack both is two-sided, eating up clock offensively with long drives and keeping the Panthers offense on the sideline for as long as possible.
Their success rests with Cowan (263 rushing yards, 2 TDs) and Ellison’s ability to work in some play-action passes from junior quarterback Trenton Jones to keep Midway from loading the box every down. Cowan, though, deflected any sort of extra pressure.
“It’s not as much on me, I’m looking toward my offensive line to have a great night,” Cowan said. “If they have a bad night, I’m going to have a bad night. If they do well, I’m going to do well — I eat off them.”
And although wins have been hard to come by so far this season, and Midway poses an intimidating hurdle, the Eagles’ biggest challenge could be proving to themselves just how superficial their differences really are.
“I always say that we can be one of the best teams in district, if we just take away the mistakes ... we can be a great team,” Cowan said.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566