Winning Play

Senior Cullen Braden runs with the ball as junior Juan Leal (66), sophomore Rueben Owens II and junior Kerry North (70) clear the way for him.

 

The El Campo Ricebirds’ (8-1, 5-0) offensive juggernaut will roll to the big city this Friday night when they take on the Yates Lions (4-2) at Barnett Stadium in the first round of the playoffs.

The Ricebirds were two points shy of averaging 40 points a game this season. El Campo’s offense picked up 408.6 yards a game this season. The offensive output was the most since 2014 when the Ricebirds burned teams for 423.5 yards a game.

Despite the offensive success, El Campo Head Coach Wayne Condra is bullish on how much better his team can get.

“In the early weeks, the two open weeks slowed us down a little bit,” Condra said. “Once we got into district and we started playing every week we were able to trend (upwards) and focus on things we needed to do and execute week after week.”

In district play, the Ricebirds have beat teams by a score of 25 points on average. The solid play on both sides of the ball has vaulted them from unranked after their loss to Calhoun earlier in the year to now the fifth-best team in the state as the regular season ended last Friday.

Now El Campo starts a new season were every game could be their last, and their first game takes them east. The Lions did not have a normal season, starting later in the year due to COVID concerns in Houston.

HISD was split into two zones. Yates (4-2) only played HISD schools in their six games and their loss to the Furr Brahmas earned them a match up with the Ricebirds in round one pitting District 11 against District 12.

This will be Yates’ first playoff game since 2017. El Campo is familiar with Yates and has played them in non-district in the past.

“They’ve got a lot of tradition,” Condra said. “They’ve had some great playoff runs (in the past). They’re very athletic and they’re going to come out ready to play.”

Yates will bring a unique spread offense with two quarterbacks, one left-handed and one right-handed both splitting reps. Their quarterbacks have combined for 30 completions, 522 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

Senior Ramadan Ahmad is the Lions lead running back picking up 417 yards and four touchdowns on 73 carries. Senior Kasyn Alexander has 225 yards the second-most on the team. Both Yates quarterbacks can also pick up yards on the ground if plays break down.

Sophomore Cameron Irving and junior JaRubein Spain both have nine catches each. The Lions offense is averaging 28.6 points per game.

El Campo’s defense has held teams to 20 points a game. Needville was the only team in the district to score three touchdowns.

In their last two games, against Columbia and Needville, the Ricebirds defensive pressure has caused eight sacks with four turnovers.

Yates defense this season has held teams to 14 points a game. Their defensive resume includes two shutouts and holding another team to two points.

“They base out of a 4-2-5 look and we have a good idea of where they line up,” Condra said. “From there we adjust where we need to.”

El Campo’s offense is led by the running attack of junior Johntre Davis and sophomore Rueben Owens II who’ve combined for 2,623 yards and 36 touchdowns. The pass game hasn’t been needed this year, but senior quarterback Cullen Braden when asked has connected on 48 percent of his passes. Braden has also given the offense contributions with his legs, last week against Needville breaking loose for a 70-yard run.

The Ricebirds haven’t been slowed often this year. However, now that they are going to be seeing different styles they’ll have to be able to adjust on the fly if they hope to extend their season.

For those attending the game, Barnett Stadium is in south Houston off of 610. Cross streets are Long drive and Weslow street, near Cullinan Park. Around 2,000 tickets have been given to El Campo ISD and tickets can only be brought through the school. El Campo ISD will release ticket information during the week.

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