LEANDER — McLane Carter wants to win games.
But he wants to win the respect of his teammates even more.
Salado’s junior quarterback is still growing into his position, but the process has been relatively smooth so far with Carter guiding the Eagles to the 7-on-7 state tournament, which began Thursday at the Southwest Williamson County Regional Park.
But the young quarterback and his teammates ran into some turbulence during the opening day’s pool play games, losing two of three contests and falling into the consolation bracket.
“Coming in here new, I’m feeling like they respect me,” he said. “It makes me feel better. I get trust from my players to throw to them, and I know they will do good for me.”
Carter helped Salado record a total of 97 points during its three Division II games, including an upset of Class 3A preseason No. 8 Abilene Wylie.
After falling to Somerset 42-32 to open play in Pool F, the Eagles rebounded to claim a 19-7 first-half lead against the Bulldogs before cruising to a 38-19 victory.
“We came out and played really good defensively against them and our kids finished that game,” Salado first-year head coach Brent Graham said. “They were finishing catches, staying hooked up with their man on defense, and when they do that, we can be pretty good. We’ve just got to stay within ourselves and not get distracted by things we can’t control.”
Against 3A No. 11 Celina, the officiating clearly frustrated Salado’s players late as the Bobcats built a 22-point lead before winning 43-27 to send the Eagles into the consolation bracket.
“Everybody got riled up and got their heads out of control, and we just didn’t play the game that we know how to play,” Carter said. “But we did ... decent.”
Salado now turns its attention to its opening game in bracket play against Gatesville today at 8 a.m. The Hornets, who are competing in their sixth consecutive state tournament, went winless during its three pool play games as it faced a trio of state-ranked opponents.
Gatesville was shutout by the state’s top-ranked 3A team Carthage 32-0 in its opener before being stunned by 2A No. 5 Sonora 24-21 as the Broncos scored with less than a minute remaining. Then 3A No. 19 La Grange scored 33 consecutive points en route to a 40-6 win.
“We’re young and it showed today,” Gatesville head coach Kyle Cooper said. “It wasn’t the outcome we wanted, but, like I told the kids, the main reason we do this is for the camaraderie. ... 7-on-7 is not the end all. We play it for a lot of reasons, but what we are waiting for is Aug. 5 (the first day of conditioning for the season). That is when is really kicks up.”
Beginning today, the tournament shifts to a single-elimination format as 32 teams advance to both the championship and consolation brackets. The winner between Salado and Gatesville moves on to face the winner between Alpine and Port Isabel at 10:15 a.m. with the consolation bracket’s championship game beginning at 2:45 p.m.
“I think (moving on to bracket play) brings a sense of urgency to reality,” Graham said. “At 8 o’clock in the morning, it is do or die and everybody is going to feel that way. We are going to get (Gatesville’s) best game, and we hope to give them ours.”
Despite his team’s struggles, Cooper feels certain his players will be prepared to play Salado.
“These kids are competitors,” he said. “They are going to compete no matter what is on the table.”
Contact Clay Whittington at firstname.lastname@example.org