The Llano High School football team will face a familiar opponent to kick off the 2018 playoffs: Hondo.
The game starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, at Alamo Stadium, 760 Stadium Drive in San Antonio.
The Owls (6-4 overall, 4-1 District 14-4A Division II) snapped a three-game losing streak to the Yellow Jackets with a 29-26 victory to open the season Aug. 31.
“I think our kids definitely know we didn’t play our best,” Llano head coach Matt Green said. “We’ve improved drastically, and so has Hondo. I think our kids feel like that’s a game we should have won. Our kids are very much looking forward to a rematch against Hondo.”
The Owls began the game with an 18-play touchdown drive that chewed up seven minutes.
That triggered a series of scores by both teams with Hondo taking a 21-14 lead at intermission.
In the second half, Llano senior Drew Cooper moved to defensive tackle from defensive end and forced a fumble, which was picked up and taken to the end zone by outside linebacker Ryan Warner.
Sophomore Case Kuykendall later returned an Owls punt for a touchdown and a 26-21 lead.
But the Owls scored the game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds left in the contest for a 29-26 victory.
The Jackets (6-4, 3-2 District 13-4A Division II) had 45 yards in penalties on the final drive and ended the game with 200 yards in that category.
Llano beat Hondo 30-24 in 2017, 48-21 in 2016, and 32-20 in 2015 but lost to the Owls 28-0 in 2014.
While the Jackets have improved during the course of the season, so have the Owls, Green said, especially sophomore quarterback Brandon J. Garcia.
In the season opener, Garcia completed three of seven passes for 29 yards and a touchdown but had 29 carries for 173 yards and a score. That was the most carries he had in a single game.
Green noted that when the Jackets dropped back in passing coverages, Garcia tucked the ball and ran.
In the past three games, Garcia is averaging 110 passing yards.
“The quarterback has gotten more confident with passing the ball,” Green said. “Against us, I felt like anytime they called a pass play, he didn’t look to throw it. He’s a very good runner. He has improved in the passing game.”
Garcia isn’t the only confident signal caller in this contest.
Llano senior quarterback Cade Fly has steadily improved after his Week 1 performance, when he completed six passes for 109 yards, one touchdown, and one interception and had 10 carries for 41 yards.
He is averaging almost 16 yards per pass with 1,677 passing yards, 16 touchdown passes, and nine interceptions. He also averages 3.3 yards per carry.
Playoff experience should favor the Jackets since this is their fourth year in a row to advance.
“You would hope from your seniors they’re prepared,” Green said.
The group that might have a little bit of a deer-in-the-headlights look are the underclassmen, many of whom have not played in a postseason contest.
A midseason road trip to San Angelo to face Lakeview could help. Like Alamo Stadium, San Angelo Stadium seats 25,000 and offered a glimpse of what it’s like to play in a venue that size under the microscope that is the Texas Friday night lights.
“That stadium is humongous, and they had a large crowd that night,” Green said. “It was so unique. I think that helped them. Our kids will be as playoff ready as they can be.”
One difference between this season and the past two years is that the Jackets didn’t have a bye week during to end the regular season. Llano had to practice for its final district game, a 58-0 victory against Austin Eastside Memorial on Nov. 9.
While Llano had 70-minute practices leading up to the Eastside Memorial contest, coaches matched up the team’s top offensive and defensive players for spirited gatherings filled with tough blocks and a lot of contact.
“The practices were going to be short, but they were going to be intense,” Green said. “Our practices were intense. Our players had to prepare and train and go play. We got to keep a routine. You can get out of routine, and kids can get lazy.”