2014: Something New, Something Old

The excitement back in early February is one classic tale.  Be careful what you wish for.   The Llano Yellowjackets have been buried in a 3AAA district for decades that has clamed state championships by Bandera, Liberty Hill, Gatesville, Wimberley and state finalist in recent years with Burnet and Brownwood.  There were no easy weeks, yet the 2013 team made the playoffs by beating both Gatesville and Brownwood, a year 20 years from now “will go down in infamy.”  Llano as always, shows up to play.  Llano is not taken for granted on anyones schedule.  The little train that could has left powers in the dust for over 4o years.  That reputation today far exceeds any great coaching dynasties.  It is all about the character of our kids.

A quick reminder;  In 1973 the Yellowjackets beat #2 ranked Bastrop in a bi-district contest 7-0.  Llano beat West Lake the first two years they played.  Llano beat an undefeated and #1 ranked team in Central Texas, Leander in a snow storm, I think the score was 34-0.  And as recent as 2003 beat a good Wimberley team  when Llano was ended a 3-7 season.  Take the Jackets lightly, and our kids will smell blood.

The UIL has tried to rearrange the schools to make it more fair.  Llano has been playing many schools with double Llano’s enrollment.  Llano, at 496 kids in high school, move to 13-4A.  All school move up  an “A”, as now there is a 6-A.  Llano gets Hondo (592), Lytle (520), Geronimo Navarro (513), And Wimberley (673) in our district.  Navarro has given Wimberley fits the past few years.  Every team in 13-4A made the state playoffs in 2013.  Four will make the playoffs this season.

The Jacket’s pre-district schedule looks like it could have been from the 1960s’.  Brady, Lakeview, and Fredericksburg.  Throw in 15-1 from last season Wall, and Bangs and Salado.  There is not an easy team to play on Friday nights.

Llano is blessed with great young coaches.  These guys load up in the mornings and help with the junior high 7th and 8th grade teams.  The whole staff helps each other.  Few times have I seen more togetherness, and focus for what is best for all teams that right now.  Head Coach Craig Slaughter is athletic director also.  He cares for every single program, and helps in all phases when there is need.  Another reason our Jackets will be competitive in every game.

After the Sonora scrimmage this week, we will look at who plays where, and how do we beat state finalist Wall in Llano on August 29th.

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2014 Llano Varsity Football Schedule

Aug.15   Burnet Scrimmage

Aug.22   At Sonora Scrimmage

Regular Season:

August 29   Wall, here      7:30 PM

Sept. 5    @ Bangs             7:30 PM

Sept. 12      Brady here     7:30 PM

Sept. 19   @ Fredericksburg   7:30 PM

Sept. 26  S.A. Lakeview    7:30 PM

Oct. 3       @ Salado          7:30 PM

Oct.10     @ Wimberley    7:30 PM

Oct. 17th      OPEN

Oct 24         Lytle               7:30 PM

Oct. 31    @ Hondo           7:30 PM

Nov. 7     Navarro             7:30 PM


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Great Seniors Make Great Memories

Excuses are not what we usually talk about here at Play to Win.  The circumstances do make a difference, but in the long haul, wins and losses and memories is what you seniors will remember 20 years from now.  You will remember forever beating Brownwood.  And while Brownwood may not have topped the 3-A charts this 2013, do remember…they too made the State play-offs.  Llano beat three district foes with enrolments of nearly 2,800 students, to the LHS rolls showing 498.  The horrible situation set by the UIL for smaller schools like Llano over the past 4 years is criminal.  LLano had good players….Llano had competitive teams….but you can only last so long swing for the fences with a tooth pick.  Still, the Jackets prevailed.  We still are the giant killers, and in 2014, few teams will look forward to playing Llano.  The tradition has carried Llano thru tough times before, and it also did in 2013.  The seniors of 2013 had a fun run, and super memories by all will only grow as time passes.  Believe me on that.

Seniors such as Gilberto Arredondo who played a gigantic role on the team the past two seasons should see after season honors, but he was so consistant for the Jackets.  Eli Tiffin played both ways many games, and leadership was his biggest contribution.  Great player for two seasons.  Seniors Jordan Blackmon was special in many areas, but special teams was where he saw him every week.  Senior linebacker Caleb Penny will be a senior not replaced.  Hard hitter, played like a proud Yellow Jacket every single play.  Don’t know where Ryan Mansell came from, but golly, what a great defensive end.  Sacks, pressure on quarterbacks, something Llano had to have this season.  Ryan filled the need.  Lineman Jordan Webb, Andrew Stribling and Blain Steffen were little recognized, but our lineman blocked well enough to have a quarterback end his career as best passer all-time!  Someone was blocking.  Great season to you all.  Our defensice secondary was good to very good at times.  Elizar Villegas just showed up everyday for work, and did his job…so unnoticed, so good.  Kralen Dickerson  with 4 interceptions, Tyler Stiles (Starting QB when Rabb when out, 9 for 12, 117 yards TD pass….I would retire with those numbers), Tristan Lynch , Grant Jones, had sound seasons…in a pass happy era of today, some nites just get long.  But for seniors Mason Ladd and Sawyer Stiles each made long nites for others.  Two great players with great over-all careers.  Tight ends Erich Burch and Harley Shoemate  were good blockers, but added greatly to special teams.  Good tacklers.  Missed getting to see more of Baylor Jordan due to injury from the wide receiver position.  But Justin Long  was the best special team player, leading the team with 9 solo tackles and bunches of assists.  Great hard working senior.  Carter Tatsch is in the record book with one super game, and 927 yards rushing, averaging over 5 yards per carry, along with 9 TDs.  Great senior running back.  Wish we had had Chance Ware for about three more seasons…great speed, great return man, name is in the record book at several places…gosh Chance, I hardly got to know you, and will now miss you.  Issac Hutto was super.  Should be all everything, but know holds school record as best punter ever….third all-time leading pass receiver…many big games…he was it all…someday will make the LHS Hall of Fame…and Layton Rabb…holds nearly every passing record…I will not go thru everytime he is on the books, but my spell check stopped correcting me after several dozen entries of his name…22 games as starting QB over three seasons…it was fun to watch.  I hope I did not leave a senior out.  I love you all…this last Play To Win for 2013 is always the worst…knowing now you have other missions and jobs to go do.  Just go about it like you all did as Yellow Jackets…then you will love the memories.    Go to Yellow Jacket Records…should you see mistakes or omissions, please e-mail me…I keep trying to get it correct!

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2013 Ends with 5-6 Record

   Just getting over the hump was not enough Thursday night as the Llano Yellow Jackets took it on the chin in a 35-26 loss to Glen Rose in Bi-District play in Belton.  The inablity to score in the fourth quarter prevented a serious run.  Three times inside the 16 yard line produced no points.  And while Llano played very defense in the first and fourth quarters, it was the failure to stop Glen Rose in the second and third periods that spelled doom.

   In the first quarter, the Jackets’ defense held on the first three possessions, and the Llano  offense scored on their first.  On first down senior quarterback Layton Rabb set the scoring toss up by first hitting senior wide-out Issac Hutto on an 8 yard pass completion.  Then Rabb came back with a strike of 57 yards to senior Chance Ware for the 7-0 first score.  The defense forced three punts, on three, 3 and outs.  The defense lead by seniors Caleb Penny  and Ryan Mansell…the defense held Glen Rose to -2 yards rushing on 9 tries, and 69 yards passing on 4 of 9 passing.

   Sound blocking from seniors helped the Llano running game get going.  Seniors  Jordan Webb and Gilberto Arredondo helped the running game get traction…  Rabb, junior Jalen Bauman, and senior Carter Tatsch gashed the Tigers for four rushing first downs.  After Glen Rose scored early in the second quarter, Llano responded with a 9 play drive of 72 yards highlighted with a Rabb to Ware 34 yard pass and catch and Llano lead 14-7.  And then Llano spurted.  Two long drives by the Tigers sent the host to the locker room ahead 21-14.  Llano actually scored on the last play of the half, only to have the refs not recognize the score over the end zone pilon.  With the large picture display at the end zone, replays showed Carter scoring.  Very disappointing to Jackets.   Llano allowed 152 yards in the quarter on 17 plays and three scores.

   The third quarter was an exchange of touchdowns, and good plays by many.  Linebacker  Aaron Moss was good defensivley, as was Holden Simpson and Lance Reven.  All juniors.  Erich Burch and Blain Steffen had good games.  Senior Eli Tiffin came up with a fumble recovery, and played as always…tough and hard.  Still love the play of Mason Ladd and Kralen Dickerson in the secondary.  Jacket run defense was better at times…15 plays of 0 or minus yards on plays.  Big plays killed the Jackets.  Llano scored late in the fourth to make it close.  I’m not sure the Carter non-touchdown had a big negative in the minds of our players.  Many of these Jackets are 16 or 17 years old.  How do I know what was in their syc?

   Llano’s improvement under Slaughter is 100% difference.  His 8-13 record over two years is stellar….playing schools that suite up 60 players for a game is so tough.  February we make the change into new territory and new schools we will be playing.  The UIL is set to split 3-AAA, and we will benefit greatly.  No more Liberty Hills, Burnets, or Brownwoods..It was pretty neat beating Brownwood…and now we have an over-all record against the Lions of 5 wins and 4 losses!  Coach Slaughter is already wworking on the 2014 schedule.  It is going to be exciting

   Congratulations to this very special 2013 team.  Next week, I will review the seniors, and list the records that will go into the record books…there are many.  Thanks for reading Play To Win.

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Jackets in PlayOffs, as Planned

   In 1998, the Llano Yellow Jackets opened the season with a 33-0 lose to Fredericksburg.  But recovered to beat Brady two weeks later 6-3, which is a super story in itself( I’ll try to rewrite the story soon).  District play began with a 26-21 lose to Wimberley.  Llano recovered again, with a 50-0 beating of Liberty Hill, and a 29-19 win over Burnet. The Jackets finished 5-5, and made just barely the playoffs.

   Here is where it gets good.  Senior quarterback Zack Vassar was all of 160 pounds. Seniors Boyce Pate, Michael Hays, Kevin Gatliff, Orin Simpson, Danny Rhea, Chris Rusche, Ryan Willmann, Nick Buerger, Chandler Schuessler, Cummings Smith, …all good high school senior  players.  None super great.

   Four sophomores made the team.  Strong junior class.  Coach Karl McCormack and the Pearsall coach could not find anywhere to play the Bi-District game.  Pearsall was 10-0, ranked in the top 10 according to the Harris Poll.  So the Pearsall Coach tells Coach McCormack that he has never seen the folks in Pearsall so fired up about a football team.  This was their year!  And Pearsall would love to have a road trip to Llano and play!  Coach McCormack fell out of his chair, recovered and said “yes, Llano would love to host the Bi-District game”.

   It had rained off and on all day.  But Pearsall busses started getting to Llano before noon.  And they kept coming.  Stangers set up in the Llano High School parking lots and bar-b-qued food!  We had never seen such a sight.  My, my, these folks are serious…they must be really good.  And they were so nice.  I meet a fellow walking in town, and he was so gracious.  And he could not wait for his team to win their first play-off game of 1998.  “On to State”.

   Llano had a serious face on for the game.  No one knew what to expect.  But Llano jumped on Pearsall from the first minute of the game, and never looked back in a 41-26 victory.  The game was not close.  Llano never let up.  It was Llano Yellow Jackets at their best, beating a good football team that no one had given the Jackets a chance.  It was good players playing their best.  That is all it takes to win a playoff game in Texas.

   Llano did the same last Friday night beating Brownwood.  Everyone playing hard every single down.  I watched Eli Tiffin and Caleb Penny.  I watched Mason Ladd, thinking not only might this be their last game, but also the last time I would get watch them play.  I wanted so much for Llano to win.  Beat Brownwood.  Not back into the playoffs, but to earn it.  I wanted these seniors to know how it felt to achieve a dream.  The Jackets’ 23 seniors have all laid awake at nights, wondering how it would be to be in a playoff game.  Now it was going to happen.

   To win this week against Glen Rose, Llano has to play even better than they did against Brownwood.  And Llano will.  This is where teams with dreams make them come true.  Layton and Issac and Chance and Carter are not finished.  There are games to be won, and games still to be played.  I do think the Jackets have gotten better each week.  You must if you want to win game number 6.  Gilberto, and Mansell, Villegas, Webb, Steffen, Lynch, Sawyer, Blackmon, Long, Burch, Kralen, Jones, Stribling, Shoemate, Jordan, all must contribute in some way.  Must all be positive, and serious.  You want to make this moment count.  There will never be another like it.

   Coach Slaughter told you last week that beating Brownwood would be a memory you would never forget.  A memory that will match few others in your lifetime.  He spoke the truth.  But you can add to that fantastic memory by soundly going to Belton Thursday night and beating a good Glen Rose team.  Few gave you much hope in August.  You have beat those odds.  Now, pile it on. Never look back.  These memories are for youselves. Live each moment, and leave not one ounce of energy in your body.  Play smart, and the game will be yours.  Llano by 15.

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Let’s make the PlayOffs!

   Maybe some good can come from the loss at Burnet last Friday nite.  The 35-14 loss hurts, and at times felt like I had seen it before.  The Jacket defense will have to show up against Brownwood, and the offense will have to play error free and put points up early.  Burnet was not as good as past teams, but the ability to run four times on third down and make the first down was defeating enough.  But the eight first down on first down was the killer.  Burnet made the corners on their running game practically every time.  Llano must contain.

   Jackets had many very good plays.  Still getting good pressure from senior Ryan Mansell.  Colton Ekstrom is getting better every game.  Mason Ladd and Sawyer Stiles were good in the secondary.  Junior Lance Reven had one of his best games.  Justin Long played hard.  Eliazar Villegas is playing very good at cornerback, as is Kralen Dickerson.  Senior Caleb Penny too had a good game.  Still like the play of Blain Steffen.  Jordan Blackmon and Justin Long hustle hard every play on special teams.

   But…everyone does not play always well on the same plays.  This week, we must all be together.  Play hard every single play.  Seniors will know, this could be the last game.  And there is no reason that should happen.  Llano is as good as Brownwood.  Playing in Llano should give the Jackets the edge.

   Senior Issac Hutto had 7 catches last week.  I’d throw to him 15 times when he gets those short cornerbacks on him.  Jalen Bauman is great over the middle.  He will not go down with one hit.  He hurts folks when he catches the ball.  Kralen, Sawyer, Mason and Chance all can catch.  Senior Carter Tatsch has 16 catches coming out of the backfield.  All hands must be ready.  Llano will beat Brownwood and the make the playoffs , but it will be a shoot-out.

   Senior Layton Rabb is averaging 245 yards passing a game.  It may take more against the Lions.  Carter is averaging about 90 yards rushing per game.  We may need 125 from Carter, and another 75 from Layton.  It will take everything, from every player.  You will not regret leaving it all on the field Friday night.

   Comparing scores is a hard business.  But Llano matches well with Brownwood.  With both teams at 2-2 in District play, the winner goes to Bi-District.  I would hate for the game to end up with 120 points total being scored, but this game leans that direction.  Turnovers by either team changes everything.  Llano has been soundest is this area. Averaging just a bit over one per game.  You will win if we only have one.  But Mason, Kralen, Caleb, Jordan, Eliazar and Lance need to find about three from the Lions.

   How does Llano win?  The offensive line gives Layton time to throw, and holes for Carter to run.  Keep the ball from the high scoring Lions. Senior Gilberto Arredondo, Ekstrom, sophomore Colton Center, senior Eli Tiffin ( Hopefully he plays), junior Cody Harp, Jordan Webb, Collin Mayne, Blackmon, junior Clancy Durham, Blain, Penny, Steton Watson, Andrew Stribling must hold that block one more split second, and “don’t hold”!  Get a few turnovers, and Llano will be headed to game # 11.  This game is very winnable.  The seniors owe themselves this one very special moment.  It gets no bigger than this in Yellow Jacket Stadium Friday nite.  Llano by 14.

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Jackets Now Control Own Fate

   The 37-25 win in Gatesville may be one of the biggest wins in School history.  Llano beat the Hornets, ranked 75th by the Harris Poll.  The Jackets were ranked 111.  That 36 team jump is as large as any I ever remember.  Maybe there were others, most memorable in 1973 when the unranked Jackets beat # 2 ranked Bastrop in Bi-District play, 7-0,

   Llano stands alone in second place in 8-3AAA, with a 2-1 district record.  Liberty Hill is on top at 3-0, while Lampasas, Burnet, and Brownwood are all tied at 3rd, with 1-2 district records.  Llano plays both Burnet(this Friday night) and Brownwood November 8th in Llano.  Winning either game will assure Llano a play-off spot.  Winning both will give Llano a very big advantage on who we would play in bi-district.

  We can’t count those chicks yet.  It has been so long since Llano beat Burnet, that I refused to even look it up.  A long time.  Yet, Burnet can be beat.  Their 5-3 season mark is one Llano can get fired up about.  Llano will be 5-3 when the Jackets beat the Bulldogs Friday night.

   The Jackets played great at times against the Hornets.   Five times the Hornet went on 4th down, and the defense held.  A safety on a punt, a David Forrister 23 yard field goal in the first quarter all added to Llano’s taking everything that was handed out. Senior Layton Rabb was 10 for 17 passing, with several strong runs. Senior Carter Tatsch had 87 yards rushing.  Senior Issac Hutto had 5 pass catches for 83 ayrds.  Senior Chance Ware caught a 42 yard pass for a TD.  And junior Jalen Bauman had 82 yards receiving  and rushing.  Throw in Sawyer Stiles TD run for nine yards and you had many heroes.  This was Llano’s most complete win, and all aspects of the game were won by the visiting Jackets.  Llano spoiled another Homecoming.  You would think folks would learn!

   Great defensive games by junior linebacker Lance Reven, Caleb Penny, Gilberto Arredondo, Jalen,Tristan Lynch,  Kralen Dickerson, Mason Ladd, Sawyer, Eli Tiffin, Eliazar Villegas, and Ryan Mansell.  Love the play of Jordan Blackmon, Aaron Moss and Justin Long.  Play at full speed.  I never did find out who # 5 and #30 were, but sure was glad they were on our side.  Good plays by both. 

   This week Llano will be tested.  Burnet will have the best passing game we will see.  My favorite, Mason Ladd will have to use every bit of talent and experience he has.  I remember Mason as a sophomore and getting “experience” at his cornerback position.  I thought then, “if he can learn” from all this, he will be very tough to beat as a senior.  He is that now.  Burnet will be going after our secondary like we have not seen.  It will take everything to beat the Bulldogs in Bunet.  And nothing will help the secondary more than a great pass rush.  Mansell, Reven, Gilberto and Caleb must put pressure on the passer.  Hold Burnet to 28 points, and Llano will win.

   How do we score more than 28 points?  Passing of Rabb to 6 different receivers for one.  And Llano’s rushing attack needs to get 125 yards.  Carter, and Sawyer, and Jalen can get it, but the key is Llano’s offensive line must play their best game ever.  Eli, Colton Center, Gilberto, Colton Ekstrom, Cody Harp, Clancy Durham, Caleb, and Jordan Webb must get their game faces on.  This game is what it is all about.  And beating Burnet is something Llano is very capable of doing.  The line must  get a surge.   And playing 100% is what Llano is all about.

   Llano again will be a big underdog.  Great.  I hope Harris picks the Dogs by 21.  But, watch Llano win this one by 12.

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