CRAWFORD, Texas — As more teams move to up-tempo, spread offenses, the Holland Hornets and Crawford Pirates have stayed steady in their commitment to physical, old-school football.
Now, the two schools will renew a recent rivalry when they square off in the Red Zone Game of the Week.
Holland Hornets (3-0):
Holland entered the 2020 season coming off its greatest finish in program history. The Hornets won a district title before eventually falling to state champion Refugio in the quarterfinals.
This year, the Hornets have continued their quest for greatness by opening the season 3-0 and rising to No. 10 in Dave Campbell's Texas Football Rankings.
"We're still learning and getting used to it," Holland Head Coach Brad Talbert said. "We're not ready for district yet, but that's why we're playing these games."
Talbert said he still has not figured out his team's biggest strength. In Week Two, Holland ran for more than 500 yards in a convincing win over Bosqueville. The next week, the Hornet defense pitched a shutout against Johnson City.
"We've progressed pretty good," senior quarterback Ayden Tomasek said. "We work on each play every day to get better, and that's what we're gonna do."
Talbert said their focus this fall has been physicality on both sides of the ball.
"You gotta be tough," senior tackle Marshall Mays said. "It doesn't matter if it's Mason or Refugio. Every guy is a person. They have strengths and weaknesses and you've gotta exploit em."
Several Hornets play both offense and defense. Tomasek doubles as a starting linebacker while Mays plays both offensive tackle and nose tackle.
"I think a lot of people would come to this game to see old-school football, where both our quarterbacks are linebackers and our running backs are defensive ends," Talbert said.
Holland lost several seniors from its 2019 quarterfinal team, meaning a new batch of senior athletes are being asked to fill their spots. According to Talbot, several of those seniors got important experience during the playoff run.
"This group of seniors wants to have their own destiny, their own team," he said. "So they're excited about having their own chance and seeing how far this can go."
The Holland community has bought into the Hornet fever as well. Talbot said finding tickets to their home opener was like finding tickets to the Super Bowl.
"The people in the community are still buying as much purple as they can. They're still supporting the guys as much as possible. So, just like any community, they're gonna support their team," Talbert said.
This is Holland's final non-district game. The Hornets open district play against Hearne September 25.
Crawford Pirates (3-0):
Crawford has sailed through the first three weeks of the season, going 3-0 including a resounding 62-0 thumping of Axtell in Week Three.
That offensive onslaught was led by senior quarterback Tanner Merenda. Last season, Merenda threw for 826 yards and 10 touchdowns, despite the fact that Crawford still operates in a run-first offense.
“We like to score you know, but we are also a great defensive team, Merenda said. "We like to put the numbers up on them, but still hold them.”
Merenda can say that as the reigning District Defensive MVP. In 2019, he recorded 84 tackles as a linebacker.
So far, the Pirates have recorded two shutout wins.
“That has to do with the fact that they are pretty disciplined," Crawford Head Coach Greg Jacobs said. "They understand the schemes we present each week and how they work. That makes a big difference. And they play with a lot of pride.”
Jacobs is in his first year at the helm for the Pirates after they parted ways with long-time coach Delbert Kelm. Jacobs served as an offensive line coach under Kelm and decided to continue his physical brand of offense.
“I think we are all starting to come together, like we are on the verge of just getting that train rolling down hill," Merenda said.
The Pirates entered the season as the No. 12 team in the preseason 2A-1 Top 25. They were also projected to finish at the top of district 7-2A I.
So far, Crawford has not cracked the Top 10 despite three straight wins.
Crawford and Holland have played each of the last two seasons, with the Hornets winning both games.
"All the guys are just like me," Crawford senior linebacker Cooper Gohlke said. "They want to beat Holland this year as bad as I do."
The Hornets and Pirates square off in Crawford at 7:30 p.m. As always, you can catch highlights in the Red Zone at 10 p.m.