The El Campo Ricebirds (4-1) had a tough day at the office on the road against the Needville Bluejays (4-1) in week four. With most teams in the area getting a bye week, the Ricebirds won’t get any time to sit and dwell on the loss, and this Friday they’ll play the Fulshear Chargers (0-5), which is El Campo’s homecoming game.
The Needville game may have ended in a 20 point blowout, but the Ricebirds played the Bluejays close until the end of the game. El Campo’s running game matched Needville’s senior running back Ashton Stredick blow for blow actually outgaining the Bluejays by 48 yards on the ground.
“I thought we controlled the line of scrimmage early,” Ricebirds Head Coach Wayne Condra said. “As the game wore on, we kind of lost that edge. That’s one of the things that we’re focusing on this week is getting back and trying to control that line of scrimmage.”
El Campo put up 27 points against Needville, only a few points shy of their season average, but what really hurt them Friday night outside of the injuries was a turnover on downs and a costly fumble that tipped the game in the Bluejays favor. Going into the fourth quarter, the Birds trailed 26-20 and they had two drives get deep into Needville territory, but came up empty-handed.
Senior Clay Jung was injured during the game and won’t play this week. The Birds will go with backup quarterback junior Cullen Braden who came into Friday’s game and got a little over three-quarters of work against a defense that put a lot of pressure on him. Condra was happy with what he saw from Braden, despite being used in an unfavorable situation.
“Cullen didn’t get a lot of snaps in practice, but he came in and did a really good job for us,” Condra said.
Braden going into the game with Fulshear will have a full week of snaps under his belt. While the Birds are a run-heavy team, when he’s given time to throw, Braden has the arm to complete some big passes. Braden during seven-on-seven this summer rotated with Jung.
Fulshear, who’s only in their second year of varsity football will come to El Campo winless on the season. The Ricebirds last year squeaked out a road win over Fulshear, so they have first-hand experience about how game the Chargers can be despite not having much success in the win column.
Fulshear’s defense on the season is allowing 33.4 points a game. They have also given up the most yards in district with 1,169 yards allowed on the ground. Of the five schools Fulshear has faced this year, two are undefeated and one has a 4-1 record.
The Chargers defense has two returning first-team all-district players in linebacker Terrance Cooks and defensive back Truman Bexley.
“Defensively they do a great job,” Condra said. “They have a five-man front basically, they roll around and walk some guys down into the box and do some different things. They’re very disciplined on the defensive side, they do a great job at assignment football.”
While Condra was complimentary about Fulshear’s defense, the Ricebirds offense if they can move the line of scrimmage should be able to run the ball fairly well. The last two teams that played Fulshear both had over 200 yards rushing. The Ricebirds hydra attack is gaining on average 321 yards a game.
The Ricebirds defense will see a different attack this year. Keaton Huebner was a dual-threat quarterback that El Campo faced last year, but he graduated. Fulshear now is airing the ball out with a district-leading 931 yards passing. Jackson Edge leads Fulshear completing 58 percent of his passes for 675 yards.
Last week the Birds limited Needville to 136 yards passing, with 58 yards coming on one play. El Campo’s defensive front has caused opposing quarterbacks problems, but when given time they are able to complete passes. El Campo’s defensive front will need to pressure Fulshear into bad passes or running the ball which they haven’t been able to do effectively this season only averaging 87 yards a game on the ground.