By Kevin Posival and Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
The Badgers know who is coming to town on Friday.
The last time Lampasas and the Liberty Hill Panthers met, the Badgers were fighting for their playoff lives and were essentially eliminated with the 23-7 loss to the eventual district champions.
This year, there is more on the line than the playoffs when the two District 25-3A undefeateds clash.
"We're 3-0 starting district and we're on our way to something big," Lampasas quarterback Brandon Scott said after the Badgers' 42-28 win over Salado on Friday. "This is bigger than just making the playoffs, we have a very good chance to be district champs and I'm really proud to say that."
Lampasas (7-1, 3-0) has won four straight and its slot-T offense averages a district-best 421.4 yards and more than 36 points a game. It's a machine-like offense that has proved hard to stop, but the Badgers defense will have to because the Panthers (6-2, 3-0) run the same slot-T, averaging 379.8 yards and more than 24 points per game.
"The transition's going to be from defending a spread team to a mirror image of us offensively," Lampasas coach Joey McQueen said of the matchup. "That's going to be the key - we ought to be smart enough to know what they run because we run it. It's just going to be who controls the ball and scores.
"I think it's going to be a heck of a game. I think our kids are gaining confidence every week and it's at our place and our fans will come out."
The Panthers, who have the district's best defense, shut out Llano 38-0 last week, and Lampasas' defense, ranked second in the district, was key in stopping Salado's high-flying offense and allowing Scott and the Badgers' offense to outshine their prolific counterparts.
"It's not really bragging rights, we just did what we had to do to get done," Scott said. "We're not going to boast until we're holding up that district championship."
Late offensive struggles hamper Salado chance to win
For the bulk of the first three quarters, Salado had Lampasas' run-based offense playing catch-up. But after taking a 21-14 lead on Mike Richardson's 17-yard pass to Ryan Simmons with 7:47 left in the third, the Eagles' offense was largely ineffective against the Badgers' defensive pressure.
Salado (4-4, 1-2 25-3A) punted on two of its next three possessions, failed to convert a fourth-and-10 trailing 35-28 and Richardson threw an interception on the Eagles' last drive that allowed Lampasas to kneel on the final play of the game.
"You've got to make all of your possessions count and when we were ahead, we didn't make a possession count and they tied it up ... then they got a stop and we didn't and they scored and now we're behind," Salado coach Glenn Talbott said.
Hornets enter must-win mode again
Two weeks ago it looked like Gatesville was surely on its way to a third-straight playoff appearance.
The Hornets were 4-2 and coming off 38-35 win over rival China Spring to open District 19-3A play.
Now, the Hornets have lost back-to-back games and currently sit in fifth place in the six-team district (playoff regular China Spring is winless in 19-3A).
Gatesville faced the same must-win scenario last year, and will need some of the same magic to get back in. The Hornets were 1-2 after three games last year, but beat Waco La Vega 30-27 and Robinson 28-27 to makeg the playoffs.
Buffs defense folds late
Going into the fourth quarter, Florence looked poised to pull a huge upset.
The Buffaloes were tied with last year's 2A state runner-up, Cameron Yoe, 0-0 and even took the initial lead. The two teams went scoreless for more than 36 minutes, only to see 27 put on the board in the final 11:28. Florence quarterback Kaleb Hardy scored on an 11-yard run early in the quarter to put the Buffaloes up 7-0. Then it all fell apart.
Jason Kopriva hit Elmo Haynes for a 50-yard bomb. Minutes later he found Jalen White from 8 yards out for a score. Then, for the second time in three weeks, Keaton Denio scored Cameron's final touchdown on a 15-yard run to give the Yoemen the 20-7 win.
By the Numbers
1 - Third-down conversions, out of four chances, for Salado's offense after taking a 21-14 lead over Lampasas early in the second half. The single conversion came after a roughing-the-passer call against the Badgers on a third-and-5 play. Salado turned the ball over on the next play.
2 - Consecutive games for Lampasas in which the leading rusher topped 200 yards. Quarterback Brandon Scott ran 21 times for 201 yards and two touchdowns Friday in the Badgers' win over Salado. The week before, Secody Howard ran for 262 against Llano.
6.37 - Difference in yards per carry between Waco Connally and Gatesville in the Hornets' 20-7 loss. The Cadets averaged 10.75 yards per carry, getting 181 yards on 17 attempts from D'Marcus Smith. Gatesville averaged 4.38 yards per rush.
48 - Pass attempts by Florence's Hardy as they tried to hold off a Cameron Yoe fourth-quarter comeback Friday.
Liberty Hill (6-2, 3-0 25-3A) at Lampasas (7-1, 3-0), 7:30 p.m., Friday - The Badgers were on the wrong side of a 23-7 decision last year, essentially seeing their postseason end. The district's two top rushing attacks will go at it again, this time with a potential district title on the line.
Gatesville (4-4, 1-2 19-3A) at Waco La Vega (8-0, 3-0), 7:30 p.m., Friday - Now facing a must-win - the Hornets sit fifth in their six-team district - Gatesville faces a Pirate team that has held five of its eight opponents to 14 or fewer points and beat Robinson 28-14 in a first-place showdown Friday.
Taylor (2-6, 2-1 25-3A) at Salado (4-4, 1-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday - Having already taken on two of last year's three district playoff representatives, and following last Friday's fourth-quarter loss to Lampasas, the offensive-minded Eagles need to rebound against 25-3A's worst defense if the playoffs are going to be a reality.
Florence (3-5, 0-4 12-2A DI) at Troy (4-4, 2-2), 7:30 p.m., Friday - After Cameron's late rally to defeat the Buffaloes, Florence is in jeopardy of going winless in district play with only two games left. Troy, meanwhile, is trying to position itself for the playoffs and has to beat both Florence and Cameron Yoe to do it.