How important is the 2011 season opener? Houston coach David Williams says it is critical.
“To be quite honest, this is a game that we need to win,” Williams said. “Badly.”
The opening game against rival Cabool — kickoff is 7 p.m. Friday at Tiger Stadium — will likely set the tone for what has been a rough stretch for the program. Will the Tigers snap their 10-game losing skid or will the difficult times continue?
Williams said he was frustrated following Friday’s jamboree in Sullivan. He challenged his players to play harder and give a better effort to win for the first time since the 2009 season finale against Cuba.
“I think we can do it, but we can’t do it with the status quo,” Williams said before Monday’s practice. “Something has to change in the next few days.”
The Tigers enter a new season with many new wrinkles. Junior Weston Walker assumes quarterback duties in his first season since middle school. He’ll direct an offense that makes the transition from the spread to pistol. Kaden Miller, who had 20 carries last year, will be the featured running back.
Cabool has won just three games the past two years. Two of those have been against Houston, including last year’s 34-13 victory.
Both of the Bulldogs’ wins against the Tigers have been under the direction of Eric Sloan, a former HHS assistant who was a finalist for head coach when Chris Edwards was hired. Sloan left the district, joined the Cabool staff and eventually became the Bulldogs’ head coach.
“I’ll be honest. My feelings were hurt,” Sloan said of leaving Houston. “My first year, that game meant a whole lot to me.
“I like everybody over there. Everyone was great to me, and I still talk to people from the community on a regular basis. You definitely want to win the first one to try to gain some momentum, but it’s not anymore important than any other game on the schedule.”
The Bulldogs’ philosophy will be a simple one in 2011: overpower teams. Cabool will feature a beefy offensive line with five players over 200 pounds. Three are more than 235 pounds.
The big guys up front will plow the way for a new stable of running backs. Gone are Preston Eagleman and Donovan Baker, who combined for 141 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s victory against Houston. They are replaced by Clayton Manning, who missed half of last season with a MCL tear, and sophomore Austin Coen. Sloan said freshman Broderick Davis had a pair of long touchdown runs in Friday’s jamboree, but he is hesitant to play the first-year player in a varsity contest.
Cabool returns an experienced quarterback in senior Brandon Loman, who connected on nine of 11 passes for 176 yards in a late-season victory against Portageville.
Sloan said he wants his team to “make a living running the ball.” But he believes it will take more than a big offensive line to be successful.
“Right now, I don’t feel like we’re very tough,” Sloan said. “When somebody hits us in the mouth, what are we going to do? Are we going to come back for some more or back down from the challenge?”
Williams, who is searching for his first victory with the Tigers, has similar questions about his team.
“We had a good talk after the jamboree,” said Williams, who enters his second season at Houston. “I laid it on the line as far as what needs to happen.”
Week 1 games
Cabool at Houston, 7 p.m.
Salem at Thayer, 7 p.m.
Mountain Grove at Cassville, 7 p.m.
Ava at Strafford, 7 p.m.
Willow Springs at Reeds Spring, 7 p.m.
Mountain View-Liberty at Hogan Prep, 7 p.m.
Week 2 games
Houston at Salem, 7 p.m.
Cabool at Mountain Grove, 7 p.m.
Willow Springs at Ava, 7 p.m.
Thayer at Mountain View-Liberty, 7 p.m.