STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
“China Spring still has quick athletes,” Jones said. “It always starts with that. You look at their skill players, the quarterback, running backs, and receivers, and their offensive line is big upfront and come off the ball fast. Defensively, you want them to have good size. You turn on film, they’re not taking lazy steps. You put all those things together, and they’re a pretty good team.”
Burnet hosts the Cougars, who were one win away from playing for the Class 4A Division I state championship last year, on Friday, Oct. 13, to begin District 13-4A Division I. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Bulldog Field, 1000 The Green Mile.
Listen to the game on KMPN 95.9 FM or at KBEYFM.com starting with a 7 p.m. pregame show.
In the 2016 state semifinals, the Cougars lost 26-20 to Carthage in triple overtime. Carthage won the state title a week later.
A decade ago, the Bulldogs suffered a loss in the state championship that drove the program throughout the offseason and helped them get back to the title game. Burnet was the runner-up in 2002 and 2003.
China Spring, which has 27 returning lettermen from last year, is led by new starting quarterback Cayden Johnson, a senior, who didn’t expect to be the quarterback this year. He won the job in the spring and guided the Cougars to the 7-on-7 state semifinals this summer.
Jones said Johnson is a good athlete who can throw well and extend plays with his legs.
Senior tight end Tyrick James, who is a Tulane University commit, thought he’d be the quarterback. Instead, he switches between tight end and running back and will either run the ball or block. Senior receiver Steven Russo will take the ball on a run off the edge.
“I could go on for a couple of hours,” Jones said. “The running game starts everything for them.”
Once the Cougars establish the running game, that allows Johnson to operate his run-pass option plays, which means he can either throw the football or tuck it and run depending on what the defense gives him.
The Bulldogs will rely heavily on senior defensive lineman Seth Carpenter and the front seven to contain the run and force the Cougars to be one-dimensional. Freshman defensive back Jackson Denton and sophomore defensive back Kaleb Alexander are known to seek and find ball carriers, and that trend will have to continue.
Defensively, China Spring senior linebacker Brayden Mathis, who committed to the Air Force Academy, and Tyler Stewart, and senior noseguard Garrett Moorefield make the front seven effective.
The secondary is very talented, too, Jones said.
“They’re wise and aggressive,” he said. “They make plays on the ball. They’ve played big games over the years.”
In the 31-21 win over Llano on Oct. 6, Burnet sophomore quarterback Chandler Galban completed 15 of 21 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown with half of those yards and the score going to senior receiver Sterling Galban, Chandler’s older brother.
For the season, the quarterback has completed 70 of 106 passes for 699 yards, eight touchdowns, and six interceptions.
Senior running back Ian Carter has 90 carries for 625 yards and four touchdowns.
The coach called this game “the beginning of the gauntlet of district.”
“It’ll be a great challenge for us,” he said.
Burnet enjoyed an open date, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any work. The Bulldogs had light practices on two days and heavy practices on the other two.
“They had a good week of work, and that’s important,” Jones said.