By Nick Talbot and Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
Last season Florence started the season with a promising 2-0 record.
From there, though, things came unraveled for the Buffaloes and they lost seven straight games before salvaging a win over Hearne in the season finale.
This season Florence again started 2-0. And again they lost Game 3.
There won't be a losing streak that long this season, though. With a dominating 32-15 performance over defending TAPPS Division II champion Austin Regents, the Buffaloes have already equaled their win total from last season. And for the first time, in a long time they look like a legit playoff contender.
"This is a different football program right now, this is not the same old Florence," said Florence coach Paul Smith. "It has turned the corner and we are going in the right direction. This is a real football team and they are good."
The biggest change has been defensively. The Buffaloes are giving up 157 yards per game on the ground this year. And while not great, it is a vast improvement over the 339.5 they gave up last season.
"These kids played relentless (against Regents), and they got after it," Smith said. "(Defensive coordinator Will) McNeil is outstanding … you talking about changing a program. That guy changed a program."
Big-play potential saving penalty-prone Salado
In its last three games, Salado has combined to commit 24 penalties for a total of 223 yards. The "ugly" penalty problem, as Eagles head coach Glenn Talbott called it, was especially apparent in a 35-34 overtime loss to Gatesville two weeks ago. But Friday, in a 54-29 win over longtime rival Troy, the Eagles found a way to get around the mistakes - make up for them with big plays.
With nine plays of 20-plus yards - including five that went for touchdowns - Salado was able to negate a season-high 11 penalties for 73 yards with a season-high 553 yards of total offense.
No single play was more pivotal than the 50-yard touchdown connection from quarterback Mike Richardson to versatile Peyton Best with two seconds left in the first half to put Salado ahead 34-15.
But after a second straight scoring drive by Troy, the Eagles were in a fourth-and-23 situation with 15 seconds remaining.
That's when Best made the play of the game, coming back to an underthrown ball by Richardson, catching it and turning upfield for final 25 yards to the end zone.
Lampasas lost its first game of the season Friday, a 29-13 setback on the road to Leander Rouse.
Afterward, Badger head coach Joey McQueen wasn't totally disappointed in his team's defeat.
"I like the way our kids responded," McQueen said after the game. "They're never going to quit on me - I know that because we're not going to allow them to quit.
"Other than the turnovers."
The Badgers outgained Rouse 468-321 and had a trio of 100-yard rushers.
What ultimately did the Badgers in, however, were the turnovers. And not just the three fumbles, but when and where they occurred. The first fumble stopped Lampasas' opening drive – Rouse scored four plays later. The second came with Lampasas backed up against its goal line. The Raiders recovered at the Badger 9 and scored in two plays.
The final turnover stopped a would-be Badger touchdown, as Lampasas lost the football at the Rouse 1-yard line.
Hornets have plenty of sting
Gatesville knew going into the season that the offense had weapons - lots of them.
The unit got a sneak peak of that during the summer 7-on-7 season, when quarterback Cole Edmiston spread the ball around to several receivers on the way to the state Division II consolation title.
It continued Friday in Gatesville's 24-14 win on the road against Glen Rose.
Edmiston completed 13 of 20 passes for 131 yards. He completed passes to seven different receivers, including a 51-yard touchdown pass to Colton Williams.
Through four games, nine different wideouts have catches. Five (Williams, Garrett Featherson, Marqueese Phillips, Matthew Wallace and Tyler Jaynes) are averaging more than 8 yards per reception.
By the Numbers
2:11 - Time the Hornets needed in the third quarter to score three touchdowns, all but putting away Glen Rose. The teams were tied at halftime, but Gatesville scored with 7:27, 6:56 and 5:16 left in the third quarter to pull away.
7 - Turnovers forced by the Florence defense in a 32-15 win over Austin Regents, which did not punt in the game. The Knights either scored (twice) or turned it over.
0 - Times Salado punted against Troy. The Eagles scored on their first seven possessions in the first three quarters before turning the ball over on their first two of the fourth.
Minus-4 - Badgers' turnover margin Friday in their 29-13 loss to Leander Rouse. Lampasas entered the game plus-1 in winning three games to open the year. But in addition to an interception, the Badgers fumbled three times - Rouse scored 14 points off the turnovers.
San Angelo Lake View (2-2) at Lampasas (3-1), Friday - The Badgers continue their series against one of head coach Joey McQueen's former programs. Lampasas won 43-27 last year behind 100-yard games from backs Justin Maldonado and Secody Howard.
Burnet (2-2) at Gatesville (3-1), Friday - These teams are going in different directions, though both are coming off wins. The Hornets are on a three-game win streak, including Friday's 24-14 win over Glen Rose.
West (0-4) at Salado (2-2), Friday - This was the Eagles' lone win of last season - their first in 3A - and after rebounding Friday from giving up two straight come-from-behind losses, Salado could use the momentum boost of winning two in a row entering the District 25-3A slate.
Marlin (0-4) at Florence (3-1), Friday - Before the season Florence coach Paul Smith defined this game as the biggest of the season. With Florence on a roll so far, this game could provide the turnaround that he has been trying to achieve since he took over at Florence three years ago.