Rushing touchdowns and defensive turnovers turned what was a tight game into a blowout Friday night at Ricebird Stadium.
It took the El Campo Ricebirds (4-1, 1-0) a while to get going, but once they did, the Stafford Spartans (1-6, 0-1) couldn’t stop them in route to a 35-13 win in the District 12 opener.
“I thought we had things clicking pretty good (before our bye), but it is what it is,” El Campo Head Coach Wayne Condra said. “(Stafford) came out in something different then what we’ve been working on all week. We had to tweak a few things. Coach (Craig) George made some adjustments on (our) blocking schemes and the kids came out and executed.”
Early mistakes hurt El Campo, in a quick-moving first quarter. The Ricebirds had four possessions, and despite getting into the red-zone once came away scoreless, turning the ball over on downs.
Stafford took the lead on a long 16 play drive on their second possession connecting on a 30-yard pass for a touchdown. Throughout the night, the Ricebirds defense limited running plays, but the pass came back to hurt them from time to time, until late in the game.
In total, the Ricebirds rushing defense allowed under two yards a carry. Stafford broke a couple of long rushes, but throughout the night, the El Campo linebacking core (junior Jacob Lopez and seniors Kaden Alcalais and Oziel Alanis) held Stafford running backs to negative yards or short gains.
Out of the locker room, the Ricebirds got on the scoreboard. After two quick first downs, senior quarterback Cullen Braden connected with senior wide receiver Charles Shorter for a 41-yard pass, tying the game.
The momentum was short-lived as Stafford answered on their second play for their own long touchdown, a 62-yard pass. After a missed extra point, they pulled back in front 13-7.
Stafford tried to capitalize on the momentum by pouch kicking the football. The Ricebird fielded the ball, getting good field position setting up their drive on the Spartan 45. Junior Johntre Davis and sophomore Rueben Owens II started pounding the football. After seven straight run plays, Braden dropped back to pass and found Shorter again, this time connecting from 18-yards away.
After a good extra point from sophomore Emanuel Velazquez who was five for five on the night, the Ricebirds took the lead for the first time of the game.
El Campo held Stafford to a three and out on their next drive.
However, a fluke play gave Stafford the ball again. The Spartans went to punt the ball, which was blocked by Shorter. Stafford recovered the ball and threw for a 40-yard completion.
Despite the prime field position at mid-field, El Campo’s defense held.
The Ricebirds caught new life after a third and short roughing the passer call gave them 15 yards and a new first down. Owens three plays later ran the ball from 34-yards out to give El Campo an eight-point lead.
Stafford for three quarters were solid tacklers limiting the Ricebirds runs. After getting worn down, Owens and Davis both started to break through tackles and bounce off defenders as both picked up 30 plus yard touchdown runs to close out the game.
“We’re just a second-half team,” Owens said. “They were worn down. Coach talked to us at half-time and told us to turn it on and we turned it on.”
Now the offense getting hot, the defense started to intensify.
Stafford needing a score to answer the Ricebirds rally, picked up two big plays to set them up near mid-field. Stafford tossed a short pass towards their sideline connecting with their receiver. As he ran upfield, El Campo junior defensive back Jackson Jensen put a hit on the receiver forcing the football free and into the arms of junior defensive tackle Thomas Martinez.
El Campo’s defense closed out the night with two more turnovers, with junior defensive backs De’Koreyus Ward and Isaiah Anderson picking off passes to seal the win.
“I thought the turnovers were tremendous,” Condra said. “Guys getting out there and making plays. We needed that on the defensive side and that’s what we need to continue.”
The Ricebirds next week will head on the road to get on the Brazosport Exporters. The Exporters will be coming off a 28-27 loss to the Bay City Blackcats in their district opener.