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Ten Highland Lakes Sports Insights

The summer hiatus is over. Welcome back to another weekly column on the insights of the region. It’s been an interesting week one in the high school football season, so let’s get to it.

  1. Let’s recap the Marble Falls Mustangs’ loss to Pflugerville Connally. The Cougars didn’t win a game in 2022 and arrived in Marble Falls with a new head coach and renewed energy. There’s a reason why people say football is a sport of momentum, and this game exemplified that. Three Cougar series determined the outcome. Connally won the coin toss at the beginning of the game and elected to defer. Marble Falls scored on its opening drive and led 6-0 for most of the first half. The first series we’re going to focus on was Connally’s final drive of the half that resulted in a touchdown on a tipped ball for a 7-6 lead with six seconds left. The second was the opening drive of the second half. The Cougars scored on a massive run to go up a touchdown. A personal penalty against the Mustangs (and they had many of those) allowed the Cougars to kick the ball off from the Marble Falls 45-yard line. Connally elected to onside kick and recovered the ball on a perfect bounce toward its sideline. They scored right after that to go up two touchdowns. Coaches say the most important drives of a game are the opening drives of each half and the last drive of the first half. While both teams scored on their opening drives of the third quarter, that one missing possession for Marble Falls on the onside kick was huge because it didn’t allow them to ever regain the lead. The Mustangs fought but couldn’t get any three-and-outs in the second half. Marble Falls played like the better team in the first half but couldn’t finish drives. And football — more than any sport — is about finishing. Basketball is about closing out an opponent, and there is a difference. When teams finish an opponent, what they are doing is capitalizing on mistakes and opportunities. When teams close out an opponent, they are executing to perfection, tiring out who they are facing, and ensuring the opponent doesn’t get another chance for a win. But all sports have one common denominator: the will to win. In other words, and Alabama head coach Nick Saban said it best, what does it take it to break you? There’s a valid argument to be had that if Marble Falls had a three-touchdown lead at the half (and the Mustangs should have but fumbles on two drives didn’t allow that to happen), the Mustangs win. And now they’re faced with getting ready for four opponents that will test their will to win. Marble Falls travels to face Brownwood (defeated Abilene Wylie 35-21) Friday, Sept. 1, the first of three road games: at Kerrville Tivy (beat Medina Valley 21-7) Sept. 8, and at Killeen Chaparral (lost to Killeen High 33-6) Sept. 15 before hosting Fredericksburg (lost to Salado 45-35). These Mustangs showed they can execute the playbook. Head coach Brian Herman stayed with the base offense and defense for Connally, which was working throughout the first half. The Mustangs will continue to be tested on their ability to keep their composure and on finishing. Did Connally expose what can break them? Only the Mustangs can answer that.
  2. The Burnet Bulldogs traveled to face a La Vernia team that has all the elements to win at least 10 games this season. One big reason is the size of the linemen, who are both tall and wide. Another reason is its quarterback, Keegan Hajek, who completed 8 of 10 passes for 294 yards and 5 touchdowns and ran for 94 yards on 10 carries and a score. People who know me can confirm that my belief is Burnet is better in 2023 than in 2022. And this loss doesn’t change my mind. Sometimes teams run into a buzzsaw. In week one, it was in La Vernia. Now the Bulldogs turn their attention to another rival, Llano, in their home opener.
  3. The Llano Yellow Jackets took care of Jarrell with a 28-13 win in the season opener at home. The Jackets had junior Colton Bailey at quarterback, who made his varsity debut. Credit head coach Matt Green and the coaches for asking the offensive line and the running backs to be productive in forcing Jarrell to respect the run game. And give a huge high-five to defensive coordinator Matt Anastasio and his staff for fielding a defense that few teams want to face. The task won’t get easier this week at Burnet. Expect players on both sidelines to bring their best in facing each other. This is the game of the week in the Highland Lakes and us fans are beneficiaries.
  4. The Faith Academy of Marble Falls Flames lost to Bulverde Gloria Deo 34-24. The Lions relied on junior Nolan Chandler to lead them to victory thanks to running for 144 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. The Flames will travel to face Waco Texas Wind (0-1), another member of the Texas Association of Independent Athletic Organizations, Sept. 1. Texas Wind trailed Bellville Faith Academy 36-33 going into the fourth quarter before losing 61-45.
  5. Smoking for Jesus Eagles lost to Cherokee 59-6 in a contest that ended after two quarters. New head coach Boo Maxwell noted Cherokee is consistently good every year. The Eagles mercy-ruled Cherokee in 2021 thanks to winning 89-54. Since then Cherokee has won the last two contests. Last year Cherokee won 59-14 en route to posting an 11-1 record and reaching the state quarterfinals of the University Interscholastic League playoffs. The Eagles will regroup and prepare for another tough UIL team when they go to Menard (1-0, beat McDade 62-14).
  6. Let’s switch to volleyball. The Burnet Lady Dawgs won five matches to be the tournament champions of the Little River Academy tournament Aug. 24 and 26. Those wins ended a streak of three losses. The Lady Dawgs lost only two sets during the tournament and are showing why they are the favorites to win the district title for the third consecutive year.
  7. While Burnet continues to be the class of the Highland Lakes, coaches at Marble Falls, Faith Academy and at Llano note their players are talented, too. And they’re right. Lady Mustangs head coach Kait Goertz and Lady Flames head coach Erin Sawyer believe their players are still learning how to win. The Lady Jackets, under the direction of new head coach Claire Head, are building on the success they experienced a year ago when they advanced to the playoffs for the first time in several years. Head has guided numerous teams to the playoffs and believes that tough practices sharpen players to play at their best during matches. The Lady Jackets are embracing that as evidenced by their come-from-behind win against Lago Vista 20-25, 26-24, 25-19. Long-time fans say it’s the first time the Lady Jackets have beaten Lago Vista, a member of District 19-4A, in a very long time. That victory says plenty about the Lady Jackets and how hard they’re playing.
  8. Let’s hand out some game balls. The first to Burnet senior athlete Grant Jones, who had 7 catches for 127 yards and 2 touchdowns, one of which was a 70-yard score. In most games, Jones is the best player on the field. It’s great that he’s playing after working through an injury throughout the summer.
  9. To Marble Falls senior Jaime Castillo, who had 119 yards on 19 carries, all unofficial. Perhaps Castillo’s greatest contribution, however, was his determination to answer Connally back after the Cougars scored on three consecutive drives to build a two-touchdown lead. Castillo refused to go down on first contact and sent a clear message the Mustangs weren’t going away on their opening drive of the second half.
  10. To Llano senior Fitz Kennedy, who shined on both sides of the ball. He had five total tackles and a sack as a linebacker and 13 carries for 75 yards and 2 scores as a running back. No one ever has to challenge Kennedy to bring his A game because he only knows one way to play – at a high level with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He is the ideal competitor.

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