Finally, it’s the first Friday night of football, 2013. The Hornets have been waiting months for this day, and they say they’re fired up and ready to put on a show full of thrills tonight.
“We’ve worked all offseason and we’ve been working all summer getting ready for this,” Huntsville quarterback Malik Brown said Thursday morning. “We’ve been working on stuff we did last year, trying to perfect it. Right now, we’re passing the ball better, running the ball better and blocking better.
“Defensively, we’re going to be really good this season,” Brown added. “We lost three or four really good players on that side of the ball, but guys have stepped up and filled in for them. We should be better than we were last year.”
The Hornets believe they can improve on the 7-3 regular-season record they posted last fall. Their coaches say Huntsville should compete for a District 18-4A championship and has enough talent to make a lengthy push through the Class 4A state playoffs.
Before they start worrying about the Montgomery Bears, Brenham Cubs and Magnolia West Mustangs — the teams to beat in 18-4A — the Hornets must tackle the Humble Wildcats and College Park Cavaliers, their two nondistrict foes, teams that should help Huntsville prepare for the rigors of a tough eight-game district schedule.
“It’s really exciting around here right now,” Huntsville defensive end/receiver Da’Cuan Jenkins said. “We’re only a day away from our first game and we’re too fired up, really. We just need to take this one week at a time, just like our coaches tell us.”
Playing sound football is priority one tonight and next week, according to Hornets coach Shane Martin. Sure, he wants to see guys like Brown, Morie Evans, Christain Champine, Harold Johnson and Scooter Jefferson make big plays for the Huntsville offense.
A hard-hitting linebacker in his high school days in Edna, Martin has also been foaming at the mouth to see Keelan Greene, Da’Cuan Jenkins, Keith Arceneaux and Michael Pena put pops on opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers. Yet, it’s the simple stuff — winning the war in the trenches, creating turnovers and minimizing mistakes — that concerns Martin the most.
“The biggest thing for me is for us to play as well as we’re capable of playing,” the coach said. “I want the Hornets to control the game by running the football and stopping the run. That’s what Humble wants to do, run the football, so we’ve got to stop that.”
Running back Deneric Gibson, who picked up 53 yards on only six carries against Huntsville last year, has some brusiers in front of him on Humble’s offensive line. But the Hornets say they’re itching to tackle anything Wildcats coach Charles West throws at them.
“Our defense is definitely hyped up,” defensive lineman Cody Garcia said. “I think our offense is going to put a bunch of points on the board, and defensively, we’re going to try and shut them out.”
The Hornets nearly did that last year. In the season opener at Turner Stadium in Humble, Huntsville romped to a 33-0 lead and held the Wildcats without a first down for most of the first three quarters. Humble finally moved the chains, then the Wildcats scored their only touchdown of the evening with 3:33 left in the third.
Meanwhile, Huntsville amassed 312 yards of rushing. Then-sophomore Morie Evans led the way with 81 yards on only seven carries. Brown added 50 yards on six carries and Johnny Crew, who’s out of tonight’s game with a broken wrist, picked up 28 yards on six rushes.
The Hornets took control of the game by scoring three early offensive touchdowns, then midway through the second quarter, Jenkins picked up a fumbled pitch and scooted 4 yards for a score to make it 27-0 at the break.
Evans and Johnson scored second-half TDs and the Hornets celebrated their first opening-night win since 2007.
Martin wants to tack another win onto the Hornets’ new opening-game streak. He fully believes that will happen if his players show up tonight with the same drive and determination that led to dominating performances in scrimmages against Porter and Conroe.
“We’re going to make mistakes. It’s our first ballgame and some of our kids will be taking their first snaps on Friday night, so there will be some jitters,” Martin said. “If we minimize our mistakes and do all the little things right, I believe we’ll come out on top.
“I think our kids have a lot of confidence in what they’re doing and how well they played in our two scrimmages. There’s a big buzz in the air. Fans in Huntsville are expecting something good and we’re going to try our best to give it to them.”
HUMBLE WILDCATS AT HUNTSVILLE
Today: Huntsville hosts Humble in 2013 season opener, Bowers Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
2012 records: Hornets were 7-4; Wildcats were 2-8
Tickets: Tickets ($3 for students, $5 for adults) are available today from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hawkins Administration Building, and during the lunch hour on all HISD campuses. All tickets at the gate are $6.
Radio: KSAM (101.7 FM), 7 p.m.