Following a few early Week 1 struggles, the Huntsville Hornets cruised with ease to a 33-point win over rival Willis in their season opener.
They know their next opponent poses a much stiffer test.
Huntsville is set to square off with the Port Neches-Groves Indians on Friday night at Bowers Stadium, with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m. And while it may only be the second game of 2019, the teams can expect an atmosphere that resembles a December postseason matchup more than an early-September non-district showdown.
The Hornets are well aware of PNG’s reputation for traveling a large crowd. Huntsville head coach Rodney Southern hopes the home fans once again pack Bowers Stadium for what has the potential to be a playoff preview.
“We had a big crowd last week, and hopefully it'll be even bigger this week,” Southern said. “To have a home-field advantage is always important ... and it's good for both teams. This is the type of game that you hope turns into a playoff-type atmosphere.”
Huntsville’s defense helped pave the way for a blowout victory in their first test of the season, allowing just seven first downs after giving up a 90-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession. However, the Hornets know that success won’t come as easy against an Indian offense that is poised to be one of the most physical they will face all season.
After being tied at 14 in the second quarter of last week’s season-opening win over Silsbee, who fell a touchdown short of the 2018 Class 4A Division II title game, Port Neches-Groves proceeded to outscore its opponent 34-21 the rest of the way.
“They have a bigger O-line, and they're probably way better-coached than Willis was,” senior defensive end Briceon Hayes said. “We're coming in hard, putting in some new plays and getting ready for them.”
“They're going to be a lot more physical, better-coached and everything, so we're going in with a whole new mindset,” added senior defensive back Jaden Schroeder.
On the offensive side of the ball, there’s a possibility that senior receiver Tyrique Carter gets the start behind center, as senior starting quarterback Matthew Southern recovers from an ankle sprain suffered late in the first quarter of last week’s win over Willis.
Carter overthrew a few deep balls early before settling in and passing for two touchdowns and rushing for another score — all in the second half.
“Coach Brewer brought me to the sideline and said, 'Tyrique, just calm down. You know you can do this,'” Carter said. “Then all my teammates were patting me on the back, telling me that I got this. ... I took a few deep breaths, went out there and threw a touchdown pass.”
The offensive line will face arguably the greatest challenge of any Huntsville position group this week, as they go up against a PNG defensive front that features a pair of senior Division I prospects in defensive end Josh Patteson and middle linebacker Santiago Agudelo.
However, the Hornets have been preparing all week, and appear confident they can replicate the success they had against Willis in the trenches.
“PNG is going to be better, bigger and stronger, and we've been getting ready for that,” senior offensive lineman Bryce Jefferson said.