Big Country Game of the Week: Hobbled Sweetwater faces tough task against Stephenville

Joey D. Richards
Abilene Reporter-News

Russell Lucas’ first fall as Sweetwater’s head football coach hasn’t been a smooth one. Injuries have been a problem, and, just to make things worse, Lucas also had to stay home last week while battling COVID-19.

Stephenville's Coy Eakin (2) tries to get around a Sweetwater defender during last year's game at the Mustang Bowl. Eakin is back with the Yellow Jackets this season.

“It’s scary playing Stephenville even if you were full strength,” Lucas said. “They’re very talented. Not many weaknesses. But when you play good people, they’ll point out your weaknesses.

“So, it’ll give us an opportunity to see what we need to work on and let us gauge where our guys are. It’s definitely not going to be without some challenges, that’s for sure.”

Lucas said the injury bug hit the Mustangs hard during their first scrimmage against Lamesa on Aug. 13, which made last week’s scrimmage at Lubbock Coronado even more daunting.

“I think we were without five or six starters (against Coronado),” Lucas said. “Hopefully, we’ll get one or two of those guys back this week, but we’ll still be a little short-handed. We just don’t have that kind of depth.”

Lucas, though, tries to look on the positive side.

“We’re getting some guys some good reps that might not have been counted on to be starters,” Lucas said. “They’re having to step up and play. That will help us in the long run with depth.”

The good news for Sweetwater fans is that senior quarterback Leo Holsey is fine. He begins his fourth year as the Mustangs’ starter. The bad news is some of the weapons around him, including receiver Harrison Foster and running back Cedric Brown, won’t play Friday.

Foster, once healthy, is a playmaker on both sides of the ball, but he’s been out since getting injured against Lamesa.

“Harrison fell covering somebody, and they went down and landed on his shoulders,” Lucas said. “It’s one of those freak things that happen sometime.”

The offensive line hasn’t escaped the injury bug, either.

“We also lost a lineman or two, and we don’t have any depth on the offensive line,” Lucas said. “We can’t afford to lose one, and we were missing a couple this last week.

Stephenville's Grayson Traweek tries to bring down Sweetwater's Leo Holsey during last year's game at the Mustang Bowl. Holsey begins his fourth year at the Mustangs' starting quarterback.

“It just makes it tough when you have to play with guys up front who don’t have varsity experience. Their first varsity game is going to be Stephenville, which is a little scary.”

Despite the setbacks, Sweetwater – ranked No. 9 in Texas Football’s Class 4A Division II preseason poll – still managed to play well against a Coronado team ranked No. 14 in Class 5A Division I.

“I thought our kids held their own,” Lucas said. “We love our kids’ energy and their effort has been great. We’ve had some kids step up and do things we weren’t sure they could do. That’s what you hope for, it’s the next guy up, and you hope those guys can do it.”

Stephenville coach Sterling Doty was impressed with what he saw.

“Based off scrimmage video, they’ve got a really good team, a good thing going on over there,” Doty said.

Holsey is the guy who makes the Mustangs go on offense.

“He’s got a big offensive line in front of him that’s athletic,” Doty said. “He’s got some playmakers to get the ball to. He makes their offense run, and he’s very dangerous and dynamic with the ball in his hands.

Eye on the Jackets

Doty, whose team is ranked No. 18 in Class 4A Division I, has been pleased with his team.

“Defensively, we’ve flown around and played fast and really, really hard,” Doty said. “We’ve given ourselves an opportunity to have some success there by our effort alone.”

Ryder Lambert, a junior, is the Yellow Jackets’ first-year quarterback, while Doty raved about receivers Coy Eakin and Reece Elston.

“Offensively, our quarterback is playing well,” Doty said. “A couple of receivers have shown the ability to be quite dynamic, and we have some running backs who are playing hard. We feel good about where we’re at. We just want to keep getting better every day.”

Doty said he’s also been happy with special teams, and he can’t wait to see how they play in a live game.

Lucas can understand Doty’s optimism. He’s been impressed with what he’s seen of the Yellow Jackets.

“They’re very solid on both sides of the ball,” Lucas said. “They’ve been doing things the same way a long time, and they have a great expectation over there like we do. They feel like they’re supposed to win.

“It’s amazing to me that some of the kids they have playing look a little unassuming, but, man, can they play. They’ve also got some who look like Division I college football players."

The Pick

Stephenville beat Sweetwater 58-32 in last year’s opener at the Mustang Bowl.

However, quarterback Gavin Rountree and running back Kason Phillips, who combined for 445 yards and seven TDs, have both graduated.

Sweetwater, meanwhile, still has Holsey, who is dangerous with or without Foster and Brown around him.

Stephenville usually finds a way to reload, and this year should be no different.  Ultimately, it will probably come down to the battle in the trenches.

“You’ve always got to win the line of scrimmage, and we both have good size and guys up front who are playing well,” Doty said. “I think that’s going to be important to see early on – who’s winning the line of scrimmage. It will dictate if our playmakers can make plays on both sides of the ball.”

Right now, Stephenville has the advantage as the healthier team, but it should be a close game. 

PICK: Stephenville 30, Sweetwater 24

Next best game

Jim Ned at Ballinger

Ballinger was the only team to beat Jim Ned last year, edging the Indians 20-14 in Tuscola. The Indians haven’t lost since, winning the Class 3A Division I state title. Ballinger went 11-2 – losing only to Llano and Spearman, the latter in the second round of the playoffs.

PICK: Jim Ned 28, Ballinger 14

Keep your eye on:

• Cisco at Clyde; PICK: Cisco 35, Clyde 14

• Hamlin at Stamford; PICK: Hamlin 28, Stamford 21

• Gail Borden County vs. MAY at Jayton; PICK: May 54, Borden County 48

Big Country power rankings

Class 3A/4A

1. Jim Ned (14-1 last season, Class 3A DI state champs)

2. Sweetwater (8-2 Class 4A DII area playoff team last year)

3. Stephenville (6-6 Class 4A DI area playoff team last year)

4. Eastland (10-4 Class 3A DII region finalist)

5. Ballinger (11-2 Class 3A DI area playoff team last year)

Class 2A

1. Cisco (10-4 DI region finalist)

2. Albany (10-2 DII region semifinalist)

3. Hawley (10-3 DI region semifinalist)

4. Anson (8-3 DI area playoff team)

5. Hamlin (12-2 DII region semifinalist)

Class 1A

1. May (13-1 DI state finalist)

2. Strawn (11-3 DII state semifinalist)

3. Westbrook (11-2 DI region finalist)

4. Ira (8-3 DI playoff team)

5. Jayton (11-2 DII area playoff team)

Joey’s picks

(Winner's in bold uppercase)

Thursday's Games

CLASS 1A

IRA vs. Valley at Jayton

Abilene Christian at LORAINE

TLCA-Abilene at WOODSON

WESTBROOK at Matador Motley County

Knox City at JAYTON

Friday's Games

CLASS 4A

BIG SPRING at Vernon

LAMPASAS at Brownwood

CLASS 3A

Bangs at EARLY

Big Lake Reagan County at MERKEL

EASTLAND at Wall

JACKSBORO at Breckenridge

CLASS 2A

CROSS PLAINS at Menard

QUANAH at Haskell

Winters at ANSON

ALBANY at Colorado City

Goldthwaite at CRAWFORD

HAWLEY at Roscoe

Miles at COLEMAN

CLASS 1A

CROWELL at Baird

Eden at BLACKWELL

HARROLD at Paint Creek

HIGHLAND at Lenorah Grady

Lingleville at LOMETA

Lubbock All-Saints at HERMLEIGH

Moran at BENJAMIN

Olfen at MULLIN

Ranger at OGLESBY

Rising Star at GUSTINE

Roby at SANDS

ROTAN at Bronte

THROCKMORTON at Bluff Dale

Trent at SANTA ANNA

Veribest at BROOKESMITH

WATER VALLEY at Robert Lee

Wilson at RULE

Zephyr at SIDNEY

STRAWN vs. White Deer at Jayton

INTERCLASS

SNYDER at Slaton

CISCO at Clyde

DUBLIN at De Leon

Forsan at COAHOMA

MASON at Comanche

Munday at PEASTER

Saturday's Games

CLASS 1A

Aspermont vs. FOLLETT at Jayton

GORDON vs. O’Donnell at Jayton

Joey D. Richards cover Abilene high schools and colleges, Big Country schools and other local sports. Follow him on Twitter at ARN_Joey. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalism with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com