It’s all about ball control when Leander and Vista Ridge face off on Friday night.
The Lions’ like to slow the game down on offense, and have done it successfully this season, while the Rangers will look to work on finishing longer, sustained drives as both squads eye their first district win at Gupton Stadium.
“We had fewer mistakes last Friday than we have in the previous two games,” Vista Ridge coach Rodney Vincent said. “We were better. We got inside the red zone two more times and didn’t come away with points. We continue to have great drives, it’s just a matter of finishing.”
Vista Ridge fell to Leander ISD rival Vandegrift 36-7, while Leander lost 45-0 to Hendrickson. The Rangers have won four of the last five meetings, including two straight, but the Lions lead the head-to-head series 5-4.
“They’ve got good young talent on defense and they always put you in a bind doing some wheels and play action on offense,” Leander head coach Tim Smith said. “Coach Vincent always gets them to play hard.”
The Vista Ridge offense has averaged 10.8 points per game through the first five games of the season. The Rangers scored a season-high 21 points in their loss to McNeil in the first game of district play but have been held to less than 10 points three times.
The Rangers have been swapping senior Drew Cantu and sophomore Kyle Brown at quarterback. Cantu has thrown for 449 yards and three touchdowns while Brown has 356 and one passing touchdown on the year.
Thailand Mayberry has more than half of Vista Ridge’s rushing yards, going for 375 yards and a pair of scores this year.
The Leander offense has shifted this season and relies primarily on the running game. The Lions have only attempted 17 passes this year.
Quarterback Rashad Carter leads the team with 499 yards and four touchdowns while Xavier Dotson has 413 yards and three touchdowns. The team has combined for 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns thanks to rushing score by Addison LaRue and Matthew McDaniel.
“We’ve got to stop beating ourselves,” Smith said. “We turn the ball over a little bit and we’ve got some penalties. Our execution isn’t exactly where we want it to be. If we stop beating ourselves, we feel like we can really do well with our new offense. The kids are grasping it and Rashad is making good decisions.”
Defensively, the Rangers have allowed 37.8 points per game this season. Vincent said the key to stopping the new Leander offense is keeping the Vista Ridge offense on the field longer.
“Leander is really good at running the triple option,” Vincent said. “Every possession is critical when you’re playing someone like that. On offense, we have to execute at a high level and make sure we make every possession count. And you have to play assignment football on defense. It’s a tough scheme, but we’re excited about the challenge.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for Vista Ridge after Friday’s game as it takes on Stony Point, Hendrickson and Cedar Ridge the next three weeks, all three of which made the playoffs a year ago. Leander goes up against Round Rock McNeil and Westwood, only one of which was a postseason team last season.
Such is the grind of a nine-team, 6A district.
“You play in 6A and there are no bad teams,” Smith said. “The record might not always reflect it, but every team has got good players. Our bye week is the last week of the year and we’re beat up right now. But that’s the kind of stuff you’ve got to deal with playing in 6A.”