GONZALES — Rivalry week is upon Gonzales yet again as the Apaches take on the state-ranked Cuero Gobblers Friday night in Cuero. The rivalry between the schools just 32 miles away from each other has tilted in Cuero’s favor in recent years as the Apaches haven’t won since their 28-0 shut out of the Gobblers in 2011.
Despite Gonzales dropping down to the same classification in last year’s realignment, UIL surprised many by splitting up the schools into different regions, thus the need to move the game to the non-district portion of the season. Even without playoff implications, tonight’s game will have that “added juice,” as Gonzales’ head coach Kodi Crane puts it.
“[This game] is big to the community and it’s big to our progress as a football team,” he noted. “We constantly want to get better and we want to peak our football team in district. This is absolutely on different. Cuero is an outstanding football team. They are very well coached, their kids play hard, they have tremendous athletes up front, in the back end and yes, it’s a big game and we look to come out to play really well.”
The Gobblers are currently #6 in the Associated Press high school poll that was released on Sept. 18. An preseason tournament favorite, Cuero’s offense will be lead by junior athlete #3 Jordan Whittington.
“He is by fair their go-to guy,” Crane scouted. “They will throw it to him, they’ll run it with him, they’ll line up at quarterback, he’ll line up in every position.”
The Gobblers’ offense is stacked with athletes of all shapes and sizes. From standout wide receiver #2 Bralen Taylor who is listed as 6 feet, 8 inches, to the smaller #5 Jaden Williams who is listed at 5 feet, 8 inches, Cuero has the athletes that can go at any time.
“#6 Keiran Grant is a good running back, he’ll line up some at receiver too,” Crane said. “#7 [John Rodriguez] doesn’t carry the ball much but comes in as a blocker back and he’s extremely good. [Williams is] electric when he gets the ball. #25 [Kiondre Price] will come in and play some quarterback too. They have a bunch of players that can go the distance at any given time.”
For Crane, his defense will have to make sure that they are aligned correctly, especially since Cuero’s formations are “all over the place,” he said.
“Then, we got to play with leverage,” Craned continued. “To stop them, you’ve got to make plays in space. That’s what their offense is based around, get their athletes in space and let them go make plays. Once they get the ball in space we’re going to have to be tacklers, we’re going to have to play with outstanding leverage all night long.”
Defensively, the Gobblers play an over-shifted, even-front defense, with cornerbacks that press outside receivers and Whittington in the middle of the field.
“If you get by the first wave, you’re going to have to deal with him,” Crane said. “They’re an even front defense that plays a combination of man-zone in the back end of everything.”
To counter this, the Apaches need to reduce the negative plays.
“That’s what hurt us last year versus Cuero, that’s what hurt us last Friday night against Navarro is the negative plays,” Crane admitted. “Whenever our offense gets behind the chains on long down and distance, we’re not nearly as effective. The second half, we avoided that and we moved the ball a lot better the second half against Navarro because we continued to make positive yards.”
A major factor for the Apaches will be the battle at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line found more success as the game went on due to their shape. Crane looks to use that to their advantage against Cuero.
“What we got to do is eliminate those negative plays early until our shape takes over and we can start dominating up front,” Crane said.
As for the defensive side, the Apaches believe that could be a point-of-attack with Cuero graduating players on their offensive line.
“They are good,” Crane said of Cuero’s offensive line, “but that’s where we feel like we can take advantage, up front.”
Assignment football on the offensive side, lining up correctly and playing leverage on the defense, Crane and the Apaches have a tough task in Cuero.
“We got to be productive on the field with positive plays, with playing with leverage on defense, with executing on special teams and at the end of the day if we do these things and do these things at a high level, then the scoreboard will take care of itself.”
The Apaches look for their first win against Cuero since 2011 as kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.