Coming home again

Football welcomes El Paso Eastwood for Homecoming matchup


Davis Kuhn

Zack McDonald tracks a deep ball from Chase Senelick on Sept. 3 against Madison. McDonald could play a key role on Friday, as the Rangers try to keep pace with El Paso Eastwood’s high-octane offense.

Jackson Posey, Sports Director

Most teams schedule their Homecoming games against overmatched opponents. That saying certainly held true this past year, as the Rangers won a 48-point shutout against a winless South San team.

But not this year.

Football gears up tonight to play El Paso Eastwood (2-0), a team coming off a 75-27 win at El Paso Hanks. The Troopers scored 46 points per game this past season, winning every regular season game and the District 1-6A championship before falling in the first round to Abilene.

“A lot of times, players and fans are guilty of doing the comparative score game,” head football coach Larry Hill said. “‘Oh, geez, we beat so-and-so and they beat so-and-so, so that means we should beat the next one by this many.’ Or you kind of start to gauge the opponent, how good they are. 

“And all of a sudden you play a perennial playoff team like these guys are, but yet they’re one time zone over (and) eight, 10 hours away (and) you know nothing about them. You know they’ve won all their games, but you don’t know what that means, ’cause you don’t know anything about the people they played – it’s strange.”

There’s only one Class 6A district in El Paso, so schools often have to travel long distances to find opponents in the state’s highest classification. The Troopers have never played the Rangers head-to-head, but after the state’s most recent round of realignment, neither team could find a Week 3 opponent. They became unlikely bedfellows after finding each other on an open-date board.

“Neither of us could find a game,” Hill said. “It wasn’t any grand design. … They were looking, we were looking, they got a quality program (and) I hope we do. So here we go.”

Quarterback Andrew Martinez highlighted Eastwood’s dynamic offense against Hanks by passing for 411 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 75 yards and another score. But their offensive innovation stretches beyond one player – they’ll use fake punts, onside kicks and whatever else it takes to keep the ball in their possession.

“They’ve been kind of (a) high-flying, high-octane offense, really for a while, for a number of years since coach (Julio) Lopez has gotten there,” Hill said. “And so, 75 is a little exorbitant obviously, but … they’ve been able to get in (high-scoring shootouts) and win.”

So, how does one go about slowing down such a potent offensive attack?

“Well, good question,” Hill said, laughing. “It’s hard to know when they’ve been able to score really on everybody. That’s kind of been their MO.”

The Rangers, meanwhile, might be without starting quarterback Derek Mata, who’s day-to-day with an arm injury. Chase Senelick took first-team reps this week in practice, and the team called up junior varsity quarterback Ryland Walker for extra insurance. But the uncertainty looms large.

Many fans have questioned this matchup, on the grounds a high-caliber, geographically-distant team is a strange one to schedule for Homecoming. But for Hill, the decision was an easy one.

“It’s a win-win,” Hill said. “Traditionally, we have our Homecoming pretty early. You (don’t want to) use the term ‘get it out of the way,’ but that probably speaks to it. We like to get that done so that later in the year, we’re just playin’ football.

“(And) a lot of times when you have Homecoming, your band doesn’t get to perform at halftime cause you use your segment of halftime to do the Homecoming court introductions and all that. And then your band has to stick around after the game if they want to perform. … (But) with El Paso coming and not bringing a band, we will actually get a chance to let our band perform on one half of that time and introduce the Homecoming court on the other half.”

The Troopers stand as one of the most unique Homecoming opponents the Rangers have faced and likely will be their stiffest challenge thus far. The game will kick off at 7 p.m. today at Ranger Stadium and will be livestreamed on Rangers Network.