JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
LLANO — For the first time since Craig Slaughter became the head football coach in 2012 at Llano High School, the Yellow Jackets won their season opener, beating Smithville 31-15 on Aug. 26.
Now, he said, they want a winning streak. But it won’t be easy as Llano (1-0) travels to Sonora (1-0) on Sept. 2 with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Bronco Stadium, 807 S. Concho Ave. in Sonora.
Sonora (District 2-3A) is led by junior quarterback Kaden Cordell, who completed 12 of 17 attempts for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Broncos’ 46-6 win against Ozono on Aug. 26. Junior athlete Jarrett Jackson had four carries for 130 yards and a catch for 17 yards. Senior athlete Michael Solis added four catches for 84 yards and completed three passes for 57 yards.
Slaughter called the Broncos’ offensive attack a “new age spread.”
“They’re extremely uptempo,” he said. “It’s one of those deals that’s hard to simulate in practice. They definitely make you run the field laterally trying to make tackles. It’s a lot of quick throws, a lot of motion-run stuff, so a lot of times you spend your night running laterally.”
The Sonora defense is led by senior linebackers Isaiah Lira, who was the district’s most valuable defensive player last year, as well as Jose Hernandez and Drew Buitron.
“They’re extremely aggressive, which sometimes makes you look like you’re running around with your head cut off,” Slaughter said. “They are crazy aggressive. A lot of times it’s frustrating to me. It feels like they’re all living in your backfield. Whenever you get a play blocked right and you slip, there’s a great chance you’re getting a chunk yardage play.”
Last week, Llano’s defense held Smithville to 147 yards of total offense with 115 on the ground. The Yellow Jackets also recovered two turnovers thanks to junior lineman Ray Dixon and senior Jaden Napolez.
The Yellow Jackets (District 13-4A Division II) led 25-0 at the half of the 31-15 win. Slaughter said his team had 140 rushing yards and 132 yards passing by the half.
“(That’s) always nice because there’s always going to be teams that we struggle to run the ball against,” he said. “The offensive line’s pass protection, I thought, was outstanding.”
He also commended junior quarterback Ben Walling, who tossed three touchdown passes for 123 yards. Two were to junior receiver Anthony Watson, who had three catches for 92 yards, while the other was to senior receiver Jason Gann for the 19-yard score.
“I love we scored on the same play twice with two different kids,” Slaughter said. “That tells me Ben was looking at the field and went from option one to his second read. That’s a good thing. It gives me a lot of confidence in him.”
He called this group of skilled-position players the best he’s had in three years.
“It takes the right guy to trigger, to have a little trust and confidence and buy in to call the game open, but we definitely did the other night,” he said. “I thought Ben and the receivers did a great job.”
The drive to Sonora is the longest of the regular season, about 2 hours and 15 minutes, but Slaughter noted it took three hours to get from Llano to Smithville last week because of Austin-area traffic.
“Man was that a nightmare because we thought about it ahead of time,” he said. “Sonora is your typical West Texas drive. You’re never stopping and going. But definitely two road trips in a row was always worrisome. I know what’s getting me by. I know the next three weeks I’m at home, so you won’t have to do (play on the road) for awhile. So it’s a worry, but I think our kids will respond just fine.”