Sep. 14—HUNTSVILLE — Coming off a week where a game slipped away, Huntsville will have one more opportunity to get things correct before the start of the District play.
The Hornets (1-2) and Clear Springs will battle again on the gridiron as the Chargers (1-2) but this time it will be with a more experienced Huntsville team and on the Hornets 'home field'.
Last year, Clear Springs uprooted the Hornets in a 46-18 game that saw the Hornets offense stumble early.
"Saturday was a good film day, but everybody was disappointed," Huntsville head coach Rodney Southern said. "I thought we were the more physical team. Outside of four critical mistakes, which gave them points, I thought we played pretty well. This group of kids is a little bit more mature and they understand."
Huntsville comes into this game proven to be able to move the ball and stop teams on defense. Against Belton last year, the Tigers grabbed 365 yards against the Hornets and that was improved by 56 yards this year.
The Hornets also held them to 28 points after they scored 41 last year.
Being bigger at the defensive line helps with that too. The Hornets have seen help from Zack Moss, KeDarian Easley, Isaiah Lewis, Hezekiah Johnson and Fred Oladele have stepped up to create pressure after Huntsville struggled at that last year.
With the pressure, Huntsville has forced opposing QBs to make quicker decisions before they have somebody in the backfield.
"When you can play and stay on the line of scrimmage with your defensive lineman, you always have a chance. Nobody has knocked us off the ball," Southern said. "We have tackled well in all three games across the board. We still haven't gotten the 11 guys out there that we want out there defensively but we are getting better every week."
Not only have the Hornets created the pressure, they have wrapped up their tackles and finished tackles to bring opponents to the ground. Huntsville hasn't allowed many big plays because of it.
Part of the reason is the competition that the Hornets have in every game, practice and rep. Huntsville has started five separate linebackers and six different defensive backs throughout the season. Senior cornerback Isaiah Collins, a Texas Tech commit, has yet to play a game this season and will be a big part of making the Hornets' defense better. With Collins expected to be back after practicing all week, the defense might get its first look at being complete. But with senior Jawann Giddings sitting out last week, there might be another week before the defense is complete.
Junior linebacker Shiloh Jones has stepped up this season, but he has always been a force. Jones has been a staple in the middle of the field for the last two years, even playing with a club on his arm last year.
"I think some of it is experience but I attribute a lot of it to summer," Southern said. "We got 28 hours of work. You can do tackling drills without tackling. The combination of that all these kids are athletic and a year older. You get your nose bloodied enough you decide to do something about it, and that has been our biggest difference."
Huntsville has a pleasant surprise this season. Their offensive line has played a lot better than was expected for replacing all five guys this season. The front five of JT Kroll, Jontray Barkin, Brian Parker Jr., Daniel Cruz and Tr'e Williams have all lined up to protect the Hornets backfield.
Junior QB Austin Taylor has been one of those members who have reaped the benefits.
Taylor started five games for the Hornets last year before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. Now, he has protection and the capability to throw the ball. Through three games, Taylor has thrown for 469 yards and has thrown for over 170 in the last two games.
Huntsville has done this without getting a tight end involved in the passing game.
"Our O-line play has been better than we expected at this point," Southern said. "We have five guys that worked all summer and they did a lot of things you would have to do in 'two-a-days' and we don't have to do that anymore. I think their play has been a good surprise. That is the one group that has to do things correctly."
The key though is getting both the run game and pass game going.
Huntsville has seen sophomore Trae'Shawn Brown, junior Braylong Phelps and Payton Pryor take reps in the backfield and have rushed for 517 yards,
With the success in the run game, things have opened up for the Hornets in all phases. But with the success that Huntsville is having in the passing game, opposing defenses are having to honor both games as they do not want to get caught slipping.
"We are getting to a point where people have to defend the field," Southern said. "Our tight ends haven't caught as many balls but they have been active in run blocking, and that adds a dimension we haven't had in years. The fact we have been able to execute from a run game and play action off of it creates a lot of those explosive plays."
With this game against Clear Springs coming in two days, the Hornets are closing in on opening up their new stadium.
The Hornets have been watching the stadium built from the ground up with the practice field overlooking. With a dedication planned for Oct. 2, the complex will be opened for the public to see.
"For me, it's probably not like it will be for the kids," Southern said. "The kids have seen this stuff from the ground up. At whatever point we move, I think about the guys that have done it for 30 years, the fans and the players in the past that never had their own stadium."
Until then, Huntsville will continue to play at Elliot T. Bowers Stadium. They will kickoff against Clear Springs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bowers Stadium.