By Evan Ren
Killeen Daily Herald
Two seasons ago, when the Taylor Ducks made the jump from 3A to 4A, a few local "experts" had them pegged as too slow and too small to compete with the athletes produced in Killeen.
Two years and two playoff appearances later, the Ducks have posted a 6-2 overall record versus teams from the Killeen area, including two-game sweeps of Killeen High, Ellison and Shoemaker. Only Harker Heights has met with success, beating the Ducks in both 2002 and last year.
Tonight, Ellison gets a third shot, as Taylor invades Leo Buckley Stadium for a non-district game, beginning at 7.
"They've definitely been a thorn in our side," Ellison coach Bret Boyd said. "In the past when we've played them, they've been blessed with five or six exceptional athletes and it didn't really matter what they ran, they could still beat you.
"But then you throw in their offense, which is unique from anyone else we play, and it's like you have to throw out the stuff you usually do defensively and come up with something special just for them."
Taylor's "Quack Attack", a frustrating, archaic version of the wing-T, has been largely credited for allowing the Ducks to overcome their disadvantages in speed and depth.
Described by some as a football version of a "shell game", the Ducks often employ the wing-T in its simplest form, with two tightends, two slotbacks and no wide receivers.
The formation is tightly packed with line splits which are barely discernible, making misdirection -- something the Ducks use on nearly every down -- even tougher to read.
"If we run it right, we've found that this offense gives us a chance to control the tempo of a game," Taylor coach Tim Holt said. "It lets our defense sit on the sidelines and drink water all night.
"I can't think of a better defense than that."
And for two straight seasons, Ellison has had a taste of that philosophy, falling 41-20 in 2002 and 40-18 a year ago, while yielding a combined total of 572 yards rushing.
There is, however, some good news for the Eagles.
Taylor's star quarterback from 2002-2003, Marcus Bunton, has moved on to Texas Tech, and in his absence, the Ducks (2-2) have seen their offensive numbers drop significantly.
Led by sophomore Braedon Lawhon (31-of-64, 544 yards, six touchdowns), the Ducks are averaging a modest 288 yards in total offense, 133 of which are on the ground -- a decline of more than 70 yards rushing per game.
Senior running back Jonovan Wooldridge (57 carries, 314 yards, four TDs) has been Taylor's primary weapon, with junior Lamar Reilly (21-112) adding another threat to the backfield.
"We'll tweak the offense, according to our personnel," Holt said. "This year, we've decided to bite the bullet and go with these young kids, and it's brought us mixed results."
Taylor's sporadic offensive performance hasn't helped its defense as in years past. And thus far, the numbers show it, with the Ducks allowing 338 total yards and 190 rushing per game.
"You have to put some points on the board ahead of them, and make them play catch-up" Boyd said. "Their offense isn't designed to do that.
"But if we let them get up on us by a touchdown, then we better get after it because they'll grind it out and let that clock run."
That scenario, is what Harker Heights, the only Killeen-area school to have beaten the Ducks since 2002, has managed to avoid.
Beating Taylor 41-12 in 2002 and 19-13 last year, the Knights and coach Ross Rogers found success by forcing the Ducks out of their element.
"You have to be very disciplined and read your keys to stop them," Rogers said. "Their guards will usually tell you where the ball will go. If you watch the guards, you'll usually find the football.
"I think you have to give coach Holt an 'A+' for the way he coaches that scheme," he added. "I think we've been fortunate to get the lead and force them to throw the ball."
And that is precisely what Boyd and Ellison (0-3) are hoping to do behind an offense averaging 349.3 yards per game -- the best production of any offense in Boyd's four-year Ellison tenure.
Senior Beau Boyd (37-of-69, 557 yards, four TDs) will direct the attack, with wide receiver Travis Tucker (18 catches, 365 yards, three TDs) and tailback Cedaz Gibbs (57 carries, 291 yards, one TD) providing the Eagles with a pair of big-play threats.
"Taylor is going to try to control the clock, so we may not get very many possessions," coach Boyd said. "That means we'll need to get points each time we get the football."
Contact Evan Ren at firstname.lastname@example.org