Fly like the Hawks

Rangers to show off new turf in showdown with Hendrickson

RB Jacob Forton runs against the Judson defense in last year's 28-0 loss. Forton will be a focal point in this Friday's game against Pflugerville Hendrickson.

Casey Casselberry

RB Jacob Forton runs against the Judson defense in last year's 28-0 loss. Forton will be a focal point in this Friday's game against Pflugerville Hendrickson.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

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“Great potential.”

That was junior defense tackle Trey Moore’s assessment of his team after Friday night’s loss to Midland Lee. Anyone with two eyes and a statsheet would agree – the potential is high. But history is littered with examples of unfulfilled potential. You reach your goals through hard work and determination, something that this team has always focused on.

It’s a good thing that new quarterback Luke Gombert – notoriously humble – is quite proud of his internal drive to improve. While watching Ranger football work at their craft, the senior has learned grit and relentless effort… what it truly takes to play at Smithson Valley.

If Gombert can infect the rest of the team with that “relentless effort,” they have a good shot at fulfilling that potential. Luckily, this team isn’t lacking in passion. A grit-and-grind offense led by all-conference fullback Jacob Forton, backed by a traditional 4-3 defense stacked with dominant athletes, the Rangers are ready to take the next step. Returning 18 starters, the team was already under a lot of pressure to perform.

But it won’t be a cakewalk. Pflugerville Hendrickson has made 11 straight playoff appearances – one for every year of Coach Chip Killian’s tenure. Aside from history, the Hawks are great in the present. The opening of nearby Weiss High School three years ago certainly hasn’t aided their cause, but the Hawks have done just fine, beating Texas High 21-7 in their season opener. Additionally, the team appears to have made a seamless transition between undersized star quarterbacks, as three-year starter Blaine Barker (5-foot-10) heads off to Tyler Junior College and passes the torch to junior Xavier Luciano, a 5-foot-7, 150-pund bottle rocket who exploded last week for more than 250 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns. Coach Larry Hill understands the importance of limiting the impact of the “explosive” pint-sized missile, and he’s made sure the defense does, too.

“Luciano (presents) a special challenge since he is a dual threat,” Hill said on Thursday. “We have to keep him contained and force him to throw from the pocket. Our defensive line has spent extra time this week on containment drills in an effort to keep him inside (the pocket).”

Luciano isn’t a running quarterback. In fact, he did most of his damage through the air, with 185 of his yards and two of his touchdowns coming through the air. This is a multifaceted quarterback who will be unduly underestimated thanks to his (lack of) height. But stars come in all shapes and sizes, and this one shines really bright. Hill said it himself on Rangers Network’s “Inside Rangers Football”.

“I don’t think he’s a guy you just shut down, but you try to contain big plays, make him go on 8-, 10-, 12-play drives and not the one play drive… that’s our strategy,” he said.

And yet the offense isn’t the only thing for Rangers fans to watch out for. Indeed, the Hawks’ defensive front – led by EDGEs Gabe Hunter and Jaden Williams, and DL Michael Ike – is quite formidable.

Hill had this to say about the “imposing” group: “I don’t know how they clone them or how they do it, but their defensive front is so imposing. Their defensive tackles and ends… it seems like they change jersey numbers and change names, but their style of play and the caliber of play that they have at those positions never seems to change.”

The game plan doesn’t figure to change too much from last week, however, as Hill and Co. look to wear down the opposing defense with a smashmouth, West Coast style of offense that’s largely growing extinct in this new age of football.

“We have to make them play all night,” he said. “That is, keep drives extended and try to wear them down. They have the ability to penetrate and disrupt plays so early in the game we will focus on outside runs and quick release passes. Hopefully that can neutralize their strength and quickness.”

This is a similar plan to the Midland Lee game last week, when Forton and Greg Eggleston lined up in the backfield for a misdirection-oriented ground attack. A similar attack would further thrust bell cow Forton into the spotlight, making him a household name in a football-crazed school. And a more consistent defense could give the offense more short fields.

The opportunity is there. All the Rangers have to do is take hold of it, and never let go.

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