A year after missing the playoffs, the El Campo Ricebirds (8-2, 4-2) are back and, this Friday, they will take on the Fredericksburg Billies (6-4, 4-1) in the bi-district round at Bastrop Memorial Stadium.
While El Campo has the better season record, the Billies will be no cake-walk for the Ricebirds. Of Fredericksburg’s four losses, only one came to a team under .500.
“They’ve got a really good football team,” Ricebirds Head Coach Wayne Condra said. “They’re a very disciplined team and we’ve got to do a great job on both sides of the football at recognizing what they’re doing.
Both Fredericksburg and El Campo are going into Friday’s game off tough home losses.
For the Ricebirds, it was a near-playoff level type of atmosphere. While the Ricebirds were in the game up until the last play, turnovers proved to be too costly. It’s a lesson the team hopes to grow from.
“We turned the ball over way too many times. We had costly penalties in certain situations that put us behind the sticks, those are things in a playoff game against the quality teams,” Condra said. “Those are things we need to clean up. Hopefully, we can take care of the football and eliminate (the penalties).”
“Defensive-wise, I felt like we played as a team and we very good. We held them to 17-points, which is very good and I don’t really (count) that last touchdown,” senior defensive end and tight end Conner Williams said.
El Campo’s defense has been solid all year long. Behind a strong defensive line, the team has limited teams to 225.5 yards a game, the district’s best. Senior defensive-linemen Mathew Van Gorp, Javien Williams, Dontavian Bluntson and Conner Williams get tackles for loss and rush quarterbacks into bad throws.
“It’s a lot of good leadership,” Williams said. “(We) have a good base and experience and a lot of returners. That one-year on varsity and coming back this year has definitely helped.”
The one thorn in El Campo’s mighty defensive paw has been the secondary. If a team is given time to throw, a few teams have found some success passing.
Fredericksburg does pass the ball and has thrown the ball for 1,875 yards this season, averaging 187 yards a game. The Ricebirds defense is allowing 114 yards through the air.
The Billies dual-threat senior quarterback Tucker Elliott will look to get his senior wide receiver Jarrett Beard involved early and often. Beard has scored 19 of Fredericksburg’s touchdowns this season with 1,414 yards of combined offense rushing and receiving. Beard is used in all types of roles and has even thrown the ball a few times for the Fredericksburg.
“The stuff that they try to do with their formations, they’re a lot like Fulshear,” Condra said. “They give you a bunch of different formations. They spread it out and bring it in. As far as play wise, they don’t run a number of plays, they just try to out formation you. We just have to make sure we get lined up right.”
On offense when the Ricebirds get the ball, they’ll drive on a team that’s allowing 27.5 points a game. The game plan is fairly simple for El Campo: run. Runs to the left, runs to the right and runs up the middle.
“Defensively I liken them a bit, the way they line up, to Brazosport,” Condra said. “They’ll even put their safety in the middle of the field and walk him up like Brazosport did. Those are things we have to take into account and get a body on a body.”
The offense has been mighty for large swathes of the season, including against Brazosport. However, last week’s loss to West Columbia showed them they still have some room to grow.
“We definitely need to work on talking to each other down the line,” Williams said. “Offensively, we still have some things to work on.”
When the offense is clicking, the offensive line of seniors Cole Riha, Devon Earls, Edmund Weinheimer and Conner Williams and sophomores Kerry North and Juan Leal, move the line of scrimmage and open holes for running backs to run through. On the season, the Ricebirds have run the ball for 3,221 yards this season. Three of El Campo’s running backs, sophomore Johntre Davis, junior Charles Shorter and freshman Rueben Owens have carried the ball for 2,947 of those yards.
Week one will be tough, but after missing the playoffs last season, playing an extra week is a welcomed sight to the Ricebirds.
“It’s very exciting to go to the playoffs, you just don’t want it to end,” Williams said. “It’s the first round and you want to go all the way, I hope we can do that this year.”