The Yellow Jackets will host the Chisholm Trail Rangers for Cleburne’s 2019 home opener Friday at Yellow Jacket Stadium.
Both Cleburne and Chisholm Trail enter their week 2 showdown with 1-0 records after winning their season openers a week ago. Cleburne had little trouble against Fort Worth South Hills in a 49-6 win while Chisholm Trail beat Wichita Falls, 29-21.
In last season’s week 2 meeting, Cleburne ran over, around and through Chisholm Trail’s defense to the tune of nearly 500 rushing yards. But Cleburne has an entirely new offensive line and new running backs this time around, and Cleburne head coach Casey Walraven said he expects the Rangers to focus on slowing down the Jackets’ ground game.
“We always want to be able to successfully run the football,” Walraven said. “That’s what keeps our rhythm going on offense. But however we can produce is what we’ll lean on. We know that last year was last year. It would be great to have another kind of night like we did rushing the ball [vs. Chisholm Trail last year]. But I think they’re a lot better defensively, especially up front. And when you give up that kind of yardage to a team, it’s something you want to fix and have pride about. I anticipate them being really prepared for the run game and making sure they stop that this year.”
Chisholm Trail head coach Byron Bode said the Rangers have to match Cleburne’s physicality.
“We want to definitely be better in defending the run game,” Bode said. “I think the key for us is to match up physically with Cleburne. I don’t know how big they are, but they look big and physical on the offensive line. I think for Chisholm Trail to be successful, we’re going to have to compete well in the trenches.
“I think they’re a well coached team. Coach Walraven and his staff do a good job. Their kids look disciplined and they give great effort, especially on defense. They’re physical on the offensive front as well. I think they’re a really well-coached team.”
What will also be different is who will line up under center Chisholm Trail as the Jackets will face a different quarterback than last year in Garrison Haskell. Walraven said the Rangers’ offense will be a good test for Cleburne’s defense, which completely shut down South Hills in week 1.
“They’ve got a quarterback that we didn’t face last year,” Walraven said. “He came in midway through last season and threw for like 1,800 yards. They have success with the RPO game (run-pass option). They’ve got a solid running back and a couple playmakers at receiver. They’re coached really well and they’ve got a good scheme. They’re a dangerous team offensively. It’s going to give our defense another level of testing this week for sure. They do what they can to make you respect the run and pass.”
While the Jackets dominated three quarters in last week’s win over South Hills, Walraven is looking for a more consistent and efficient outing on offense this week.
“I’m looking for more consistency still on offense,” Walraven said. “Like the consistency we had against Paschal, where we really executed at game speed in a game-like environment. But last week we had some problems up front. It is a different setting when it’s actual game time and a real game night, but I anticipate our minds slowing down a little bit up front while still playing at a great tempo. I think they’re going to see things a little more clearly than last week. So more consistency overall and up front being more physical, just letting loose and playing instead of worrying about mistakes.”
While it may not have been Cleburne’s sharpest outing on offense, the Jackets showcased the playmaking ability of numerous players in senior tight end Ethan Steck, senior receiver Isaak Cunningham, junior quarterback Gunner Hammond, junior receiver Gavin Naquin, junior receiver/running back Cleo Chandler and sophomore running backs Tyler Forsythe and Cordell Brown.
Chandler showed the ability to have an impact both in the rushing attack and passing game with 68 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards.
“He’s really all over the field,” Walraven said. “In Grandview, we used Daniel Spencer, who’s on our coaching staff now, in a similar way in high school. It’s just different ways to get him the ball. Cleo has qualities that make him successful at running back and he has qualities where he can split out at receiver. I think he understand we expect a lot of him. I don’t know that he’s in the condition that we would like him to be in to handle all the things we want him to do, but he’s still doing a great job with all the things we’re asking him to do.”
All throughout practice, Walraven has raved about the Jackets’ defense, and they showed why in week 1 by holding South Hills to under 80 total yards and only five first downs, led by senior linebacker Braxton Bailey’s 19 tackles. And Bode said he’s impressed with what Cleburne can do defensively.
“We’re going to have to be able to handle their six guys in the box,” Bode said. “Playing a stacked defense and having six people in the box, we’re going to have to be physical with them. We’re going to have to establish a run game. We were able to put together a second half last week against Wichita Falls throwing the ball, but in order to throw the ball, you have to run it. That’s going to be a challenge for us controlling their defensive front and linebackers in trying to establish our run game.”
After opening the season on a Thursday night in a half-full Fort Worth ISD Stadium, Cleburne is expecting to play in a more exciting atmosphere in its home opener.
“Last week was kind of odd on a Thursday night in Fort Worth,” Walraven said. “We appreciate the crowd that traveled up there, but we think this is going to be a much larger crowd and more excitement in the air with people wanting to come see what these guys are about in our first home game.”
Kickoff between the Jackets and Rangers is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday from Yellow Jacket Stadium.