Bobcats and Kirbyville play for first place
Last updated 10/24/2023 at 1:53pm
Starting the season with one win in its first four games had some people wondering if Orangefield would be able to repeat as district champions this year. Since the start of district the Bobcats have turned it around winning four straight games and have another key contest this Friday.
Orangefield is sitting in sole possession of first place in District 10-3A Division I. Right behind the Bobcats in second place is this week's opponent the Kirbyville Wildcats.
Coach Josh Smalley said the difference for Orangefield since the start of district is turnovers. "We are not turning the ball over as we did early in the season. Some of those young Bobcats are no longer young kids. They've got eight games of experience under their belt now. Our freshman quarterback Carson Gonzales has shown a lot of grit and a lot of maturity. Those sophomores and juniors that came into the season with no experience on varsity are kind of grown up too," Smalley explained.
Prior to district the coach preached to his players that they just needed to get to district where the competition would be more equal to Orangefield. The three non-district losses included one to Bridge City from Class 4A and another to the very talented private school Legacy Sports Medicine.
Smalley reminded, "We finally started district against a good Buna team and won. Then we played Anahuac the preseason favorite and beat them. We kind of got on a little roll and turned our season around."
Despite four consecutive victories there is still room for improvement according to Smalley. "We've kind of shown periods where we didn't play as well, and we've just come on in the second half and won like the other night against Hardin when we only led 14-6 at the half. We put the ball on the ground a couple times and had a couple holding calls and just looked kind of sloppy. We went out the second half and turned it on," Smalley elaborated.
With two games remaining in district action Orangefield is in pretty good shape physically. The lone Bobcat that is out is Zach Morrow with a broken collarbone who was a starting defensive back.
The higher maturity level on the young Bobcats and the avoidance of turnovers were the two important factors pointed to by Coach Smalley helping Orangefield being undefeated in district. The Bobcats have zero turnovers in four games while taking the ball away six times.
The Kirbyville Wildcats are actually at the top of the district stats in turnover differential. The Wildcats have committed five turnovers but have made four interceptions and recovered nine opponent fumbles for thirteen takeaways five more than any other team in the district.
Kirbyville had impressive wins over East Chambers and Buna to begin district but lost its third district game 44-20 to Anahuac. The Wildcats followed their lone district loss with a 66-0 blowout of Tarkington and last week defeated Hardin by twenty points.
The offense for Kirbyville is somewhat a carbon copy of Anahuac from earlier in district. The Wildcats will use unbalanced lines on offense running the toss and toss trap out of that formation then the next offensive series they will have two tight ends later shifting into the shotgun in the Spread formation with five wide receivers to throw the ball. To say Kirbyville is multiple on offense would be an understatement.
The Wildcats also use the hurry up offense with no huddle that Anahuac did against the Bobcats. "Those are some things we struggled with the first two series against Anahuac, and Kirbyville kind of does the same stuff. Good news is we've seen it once and the kids have seen it in live action. Bad news is we didn't hold up to it very well at first but we did get better as the game went on that first time," Smalley pointed out.
Junior quarterback Jace Huffman leads the Wildcat offense and is the top passer in district games. Smalley stated, "He's the guy that makes their machine run. Huffman has almost five hundred yards rushing on the year to go along with close to thirteen hundred yards passing, he's a true dual threat guy that can run and throw the ball well."
Top targets for Huffman when he passes are Brayden Mahathay, Ethan Rawls, and Elijah Johnson. Mahathay has 22 receptions for 480 yards with five touchdowns on the year.
When the Wildcats run the ball the workhorse is Ashton Anderson. He leads the district in carries and is second behind Orangefield's Mason Manning in rushing yards with 464 and has scored five touchdowns plus six two-point conversions in Kirbyville's five district games.
"They've got three or four guys they like to tote the football. The main one is the quarterback Huffman and then Anderson. The Wildcats give you a lot to prepare for. We've had a couple weeks to get ready for them thanks to our bye. We're preparing for an offense we don't see much and you don't get a good look at in practices as far as the tempo and pace of play," Smalley analyzed.
Kirbyville came into this season not ranked very high because of the Wildcats' 3-7 record last year. Smalley believes the Wildcats may be the most improved team in the district from last season.
The defense at Kirbyville is run by new defensive coordinator Jason Hicks who came from Newton. Hicks has brought with him the Seven Diamond Defense used for so long at Newton.
The Wildcats will cover every opposing offensive lineman and play man coverage in the secondary. Smalley emphasized, "The Wildcats come after you. They keep eight to nine in the box. They come up field, they're not waiting on you to do anything, they're coming to get you."
Middle linebacker Bron Melvin is the leading tackler in the district. Melvin leads the Wildcats in tackles, sacks, and interceptions. "He does it all for the Wildcats. Melvin is a great football player with a good nose for the football," Smalley praised.
Another leader on defense for Kirbyville is Jaxxon Mordente on the outside. Mordente is an outside linebacker or strong safety who teams with Trenton Cooper and Ethan Rawls in the defensive line to wreck havoc on opposing offenses.
The final two games of the regular season for the Orangefield Bobcats will determine the district championship. Two wins by the Bobcats and they will claim their second straight title. A loss in either game by the Bobcats would result in a co-championship.
Smalley is concentrating right now on the Bobcats beating Kirbyville. "The Wildcats are a very good football team. The biggest thing I've seen is the way they play defense this year. They are very much improved with their new system on defense. Defensively, we've got to recognize where the unbalanced formation is and who is eligible for passes because Kirbyville will do a good job of covering people up and moving them to make them eligible. Finally, we've got to rally to the football and tackle," Smalley concluded.
The Orangefield Bobcats travel to Kirbyville with first place in district at stake. The game begins at 7:30 on Friday night.