CAPTION: Marble Falls senior lineman Abbner Hernandez grabs the hip of Fischer Canyon Lake sophomore quarterback Graham Simpson in an effort to make a tackle. Photo by Ralph Arvesen
The Battle for Burnet County will be played at Bulldog Field at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 13, when Burnet High School welcomes the Marble Falls Mustangs.
Both teams are entering this contest searching for their first District 13-4A Division I victories. Marble Falls lost to Fischer Canyon Lake 52-13 and Burnet suffered a 35-14 loss to Lampasas, all on Oct. 6.
So both squads know the value of winning this contest. And no one has to say it in either fieldhouse.
“It’s a rivalry,” Marble Falls head coach Brian Herman said. “It’s Burnet and nothing else matters. The outcome of this game will determine opportunities for the playoffs.”
“You need to win this one to feel like you have control,” Burnet head coach Bryan Wood said. “They continue to play hard. I know how hard it is for players and coaches to keep grinding. I applaud their efforts to continue to get after it.”
The Bulldogs (3-3, 0-1) are led by a quartet of seniors known for their quickness, great hands and strength. They are running back and linebacker Dash Denton and receivers and defensive backs Will Johnson, Grant Jones and Trenton Park. Burnet relies on them along with juniors Khris Kassner, Lew Laidler, Rhett Murray and Marcus Pimentel to make plays on both sides with the aim of extending offensive drives and limiting opponents’ offenses.
“Our guys are going to be out there either way, offense or defense, playing on either side of the ball,” Wood said.
Herman said plenty of positive traits stick out about the Bulldogs, but one stands above the others.
“Their speed in general on both sides of the ball,” he said. “Their team speed is superior.”
During the loss to Lampasas, Denton led the Bulldogs with 17 tackles, while Park had nine and an interception, and junior Colton Stanford had seven.
Herman anticipates the Bulldogs’ defense plans to crowd the line of scrimmage in an effort to block running lanes that lead past the first down markers.
“They’re going to use their speed to try to force us down, to make us run sideways to the track the ball,” he said.
Marble Falls will counter with a slew of runners led by seniors Jaime Castillo, Dominic Fierro, Cam Graham, Isaac Larranaga, Dax Murphy and sophomore Joaquin Aguilar. The offensive line, led by seniors Jeremiah Bales and Gavin Hernandez, will be tasked with opening running lanes.
“The Slot-T offense wants to average three yards (a play) and keep the ball on the ground and keep the clock moving,” Wood said. “It’s a matter of ball control and keeping our offense off the field. We want the ball in our hands. We don’t want to let them have five- or six-minute drives and eat the clock. You know you have to get them behind the chains and let them make a mistake.”
Herman said the top priority this week was figuring out ways to be more explosive offensively.
“We have been exploring options on how to develop chunk plays and chunk yardage,” Herman said. “Getting three or four yards has been a problem. We get behind the sticks, and it’s a problem. We’ve rolled different bodies in. We have young talented backs who aren’t proven.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs rely on Denton and Kassner to lead the rushing attack and quarterback Murray and the receivers to dominate the air.
Denton has 62 rushes for 494 yards and four scores and seven catches for 73 yards, while Kassner has 32 carries for 199 yards and four touchdowns.
Murray has completed 64 of 100 passes for 1,078 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception. Jones has 25 receptions for 589 yards and 10 touchdowns, while Park has 19 catches for 262 yards and three scores.
“They want to go deep fast and they want to go sideline to sideline fast,” Herman said. “They want to get you to run out to the bubble (screens), set up and then hit you vertically. They do what they do really well.”
Marble Falls will counter with sophomore C.J. Alexander, juniors Kole Becker, Parker Phillips and Thomas Valdez and seniors Abbner Hernandez, Castillo.
“They play a bunch of kids, they mix it up a lot,” Wood said. “They’re pretty sound on their front, they want to keep everything in front of them. They want to keep you confused in the secondary. There’s a ton of communication and moving guys and overloading sides. It’s hard to get a good read. We’ve simplified it and gave them a few things to look for.”
Herman noted coaches are exploring any and every option to help the Mustangs find some rhythm.
“We don’t like the results we’ve been getting,” he said. “We’re making changes. Anytime you make changes, there’s always the learning curve. There are flashes of what we think could be really cool.”
Both noted the other portions of the contest — specifically special teams and turnovers — typically play a role in the outcome.
“Turnovers will be big,” Wood said. “The kicking game — flipping the field — will be big, too.”
Following the Canyon Lake loss, Herman said he walked into the locker room and gave the floor to the players. Though Herman declined to get into specifics of who said what and what was said, he commended the players for speaking up, while also remembering to be respectful and not attack each other. He said some of what was said was surprising, and he was glad the Mustangs felt comfortable enough to be open with one another.
“We had a great heart to heart,” he said. “I thought they handled it extremely well. I think they did it in an extremely mature way. It’s all lip service until you prove otherwise.”
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