Craig Horn knows exactly what new Rice coach Jerry Baldridge is feeling, a day before the start of the season.
This time last year, the Jaguars were a 37-point underdog to Bosqueville, that based on an 0-10 season before, when Horn was still in Itasca. Hubbard shocked Bosqueville, 22-15, laying the foundation for a district title and a regional semifinal run.
Fast forward to Friday night, where those same Harris Ratings have Rice listed as a 38-point underdog at Hubbard. Can the Bulldogs pull the stunner on the Jaguars?
“I always feel like we have a chance when we step out on the field and I feel confident in this team,” said Baldridge, who returns to the sideline as a head coach for the first time since 2007 in Frost. “I don’t pay much attention to (predictions) like that. They have no clue until somebody steps on the field and they only base it on previous years. We hope we can do the same as Hubbard did last year.
“We feel confident that we have a good game plan for Friday night,” Baldridge said. “Hubbard is a very good football team and we’ll have our hands full.”
Horn was the one who pointed out the Harris predictions this week. And he also has the same contention as Baldridge — it means nothing.
“Nobody knows what they’re getting in a new year,” Horn said. “How good are we going to be? I think we look good. We’re further along than we were this time last year.”
Hubbard will be explosive on offense — senior tailback Bradley Walker rushed for 1,917 yards last season. The Jaguars have a new quarterback, Casen Martin, and they’re loaded at receiver.
What’s jumped out during Hubbard’s two scrimmages is its defense, which allowed a total of three first downs. Defensive tackle Kez Williams, who checks in at 280 pounds, has dominated. Cornerback Casey Jones has three interceptions, two he’s taken back for touchdowns. Linebackers Trey Henderson and Alex Jimenez have made plays.
“We need to tackle better,” Horn said. “We’ve made a lot of plays in the backfield with some changes we’ve made. I feel really good about the defense. We’re going to try to be more multiple than we were last year.”
The Jaguars’ defense has made an impression on Baldridge, putting the onus first and foremost on Rice’s offensive line to have a consistent first game. Offensive lineman Justin Smith, Chris Bernal and Jorge Hernandez and tight end Noah McBride will have a big task.
“I’ll be the first to say, you’re offensive line play will be the key to your success,” said Baldridge, a long time offensive line coach. “That offensive line is the most important part of a team. They make or break you.
“Hubbard has good athletes on the defensive line. They are quick and powerful.”
Rice will try to control the clock, using 235-pound tailback Ragan Henderson as a battering ram against the Jaguars’ defense. If Henderson can establish himself early, and the penalties and turnovers swing in Rice’s favor, the Bulldogs have a chance.
“If Ragan gets rolling early,” Horn said, “And we have penalties and a stupid turnover or two we’ll be in a dogfight the whole night.”
Baldridge, for his part, doesn’t know what to expect. It’s opening night. It’s his first game at Rice. And Hubbard has a year up on the Bulldogs, in their second season under Horn.
Still, the new coach in this game knows his players will play hard and play with passion.
“Within the last two or three weeks, our players have bought in,” Baldridge said. “At this juncture, you hope you have enough success where they have a psyche where they don’t give up. We’re still learning each other. We need a little confidence builder. Even if we do drop the game to Hubbard, we need to perform well for ourselves. It will be a measuring stick.”
Golden Circle Game of the Week: Rice at Hubbard
7:30 p.m. Friday
at Jaguar Stadium
Records: Class 2A DII Rice was 4-6 last year. Class 1A DII Hubbard was 9-3.
Players to Watch: Rice: RB/LB Ragan Henderson, QB/DB Dalton Pike, WR/DB Cody Pair, OL/DL Scott Robinson. Hubbard: RB/DB Bradley Walker, QB/DB Casen Martin, Jordan Johnson (OL/LB), WR/DB Casey Jones.
When Rice has the ball …
Quarterback Dalton Pike takes over the signal-calling duties for the Bulldogs after splitting time last season. Look for Pike to rely on running back Ragan Henderson, who finished third in the Golden Circle last season in rushing. The 235-pound senior scored 13 TDs and averaged almost 120 yards per game. Hubbard will counter with last year’s second-ranked defense that gave up only 236 yards and 17 points per game during the regular season. The Jaguar defense will be led by LB Jordan Johnson, who recorded 154 stops last season.
When Hubbard has the ball …
The Jaguar offense begins with preseason all-state running back Bradley Walker. The senior running back rushed for over 1900 yards and 19 TDs last season. Casen Martin steps into the quarterback role, leading the Hubbard aerial attack with a talented and deep group of receivers. The Rice defense, which finished third in the Golden Circle last season, will be led by a pair of sophomore linebackers, Chris Atchley and Raven Huffman.
New Rice head coach Jerry Baldridge will call upon junior OL/DL Justin Smith to help slow down Walker. Smith’s ability to control interior gaps will be critical in closing down running lanes and stopping the Jaguar offense. Hubbard WR/DB Casey Jones is one of the Jaguars talented receivers, but his biggest impact is on defense. The speedy junior had 10 interceptions last season, six of which were returned for touchdowns.
In essence, Hubbard is a year ahead of Rice. Jaguars coach Craig Horn is in his second year at his alma mater, and his program was entrenched with last year’s playoff run. Baldridge leads Rice into a game for the first time. It should be a great battle between Walker and Henderson. Hubbard 28, Rice 21.
— Todd Wills