Coming into the season, the El Campo Ricebirds (7-1, 3-1) were predicted to finish last in District 13 according to Texasfootball.com.
After missing the playoffs the season before, pondering a Ricebird rebound was the thinking for those outside the El Campo locker room. However, inside the locker room, they chose to grind and take the season one game at a time.
“(People) doubted us, but it pushed us to work harder to do better than last year,” senior defensive tackle Dontavian Bluntson said. “Right now there is a lot of excitement.”
The Ricebirds defense and offense have taken big steps forward this year which has helped them become a force in district and maybe beyond depending on how they finish the year.
El Campo’s lone loss was to district opponent the Needville Bluejays (6-1, 3-0) on the road by 20 points. However, the score doesn’t tell the whole story. The Ricebirds lost starting quarterback Clay Jung and defensive end Cade DuBroc early in the game.
The Ricebirds were a little out of sorts, nonetheless, the score was Needville 26-20 going into the fourth quarter.
The following week the Ricebirds beat Fulshear in a tight game at home, but the momentum started building and now the rock that is El Campo is steamrolling everything in their path.
El Campo’s defense has been stout this season. In the district, the defense is allowing 23.25 points a game. However, only 10 touchdowns (a 15 point a game average) can be credited to the defense, with the other scores coming from special teams.
With a strong defensive line and solid tackling, the defense has gotten better week after week and in the past two games have held Brazosport and Sealy to 283 yards, combined.
The running game all season long has been deadly, punishing teams and is on pace to easily eclipse 3,000 yards on the ground this year. Against Sealy last week, El Campo showed another part of their offense. Junior quarterback Cullen Braden, who replaced Jung, with two weeks of reps under his belt, completed five of his eight passes for 91 yards. For the Ricebirds, who are a run on first, second and third down type of team, Braden might have well passed for 500 yards against Sealy.
If the Ricebirds can start to mix in the passing game, it could make them even more dangerous. Teams who stack the box to try and stop the run would be forced to keep an eye out for receivers wide open downfield.
With a bye week, the Ricebirds are able to rest up before starting the final two games of the season. If the Ricebirds can go on the road and beat the Bay City Blackcats (0-7, 0-4) they will lock up a playoff spot. If they don’t, it will set up a big final game with the West Columbia Roughnecks (6-1, 2-1).
While the Ricebirds have been ripping through teams of late, with a slip in their final two games, they still could find themselves out of the playoffs. Two teams last year finished with three wins in District 13 and only one of them made the playoffs.