The Salado Eagles could have easily gotten down on themselves when they fell into an early 14-0 hole against La Grange in their Class 4A Division II bi-district playoff game last week. Especially when the Eagles fumbled deep in Jaguars territory just one play after Aaron Torczynski broke a 68-yard run on their first offensive play.
“One thing we teach them is you can’t correct the last play,” first-year Salado head coach Alan Haire said. “You can’t control what’s already happened. You just have to play the next play.”
The Eagles (7-4) battled back to tie the game at halftime and, after giving up a third-quarter field goal, took their first lead of the game with a pair of touchdowns over a 14-second span in the fourth quarter. Salado went on to defeat the Jaguars in overtime for its first playoff victory since 2007.
That sets up an area-round matchup for the Eagles against Bellville (9-2) at 6 p.m. today at Reeves Athletic Complex in Round Rock.
“They’re district champions. They’ve been several rounds deep (in the playoffs) each year. They’re a very good football team,” Haire said of the District 11-4A-II winner Brahmas, who are making their sixth consecutive postseason appearance and have won four straight district titles.
Bellville’s slot-T offense is centered around Mac Briscoe, a 6-foot, 185-pound fullback who has bulldozed his way to 2,047 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns this season.
“Mac is a workhouse. He’s a special player,” Bellville coach Grady Rowe said. “He’s had six straight games with over 200 yards and he can score from anywhere.”
Briscoe led the Brahmas in their bi-district victory over Orangefield with 242 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.
“He’s a very dynamic player,” Haire said. “We’re going to have to make stops and see if we can tackle him.”
Joining Briscoe in the Bellville backfield are fellow senior running backs Tylin Bryant and Clayton Stallones, who have combined for an additional 1,090 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Senior quarterback Connor McIntyre has passed for 634 yards and four scores and added 231 yards and five TDs on the ground.
“You don’t have backs who run for that many yards without a great offensive line,” Rowe said. “We have great senior leadership on this team and that’s what has put us in the position that we’re in.”
The Eagles counter with a defense that has allowed an area-best 263.3 yards per game, including 107 on the ground.
“It’s going to be a difficult task,” Haire said of stopping the Brahmas’ offense. “We’re going to have to establish field position and control the time of possession.”
Rowe is familiar with Salado, having served as Troy’s head coach for seven seasons from 2004-10. Also Rowe’s Brahmas beat the Eagles in a bi-district playoff game last season, after Salado got into the postseason with a 1-9 record.
“They’re a totally different team from what we faced last year in the first round,” said Rowe, adding that he’s also good friends with Haire. “Salado is well-coached. He’s done a good job of bringing in the slot-T. It’s a hard offense to stop.”
With its slot-T offense the Eagles are averaging nearly 325 rushing yards per game and have three backs who have each run for more than 900 yards. Trey Sheppard leads the way with 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns on 192 carries. Jake Harvey has 984 yards and 14 scores on 90 carries and Torczynski has 910 yards and seven TDs on 136 carries.
“We’re going to have to slow their slot-T offense down,” Rowe said. “We’re going to have to make plays and tackle well and control the line scrimmage.”
Haire said Salado’s strategy of feeding the ball to all three backs won’t change.
“We’re going to stick with what we do best,” he said. “We have three good running backs and we’ve given them the opportunity to get better by running our offense.”
Win or lose, the Eagles have made quite a turnaround in Haire’s first season at the helm. Salado had won just two games in the three seasons prior to his arrival and hadn’t posted a winning record since 2008.
“I feel good for these seniors who get to experience something positive and see what success feels like,” Haire said.
The winner of tonight’s game will face either West Orange-Stark or Robinson in a Region III semifinal next week.