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Tensions were high and the winds even higher at Merrill Green Stadium on Thursday, but the biggest challenge for the Rudder football team was the 31-7 deficit it faced at halftime against Huntsville. In the win-or-go-home District 10-5A Division II matchup, the comeback kids came up short as the Hornets held on to beat the Rangers 38-14. Huntsville (7-3, 5-2) will play at Whitehouse at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 in the bi-district playoffs. Rudder ends its season at 5-5 overall and 3-4 in district. The Hornets scored three unanswered touchdowns in the first quarter. Senior running back Cameron Myers began the run with an 11-yard TD run after a fumble recovery by Huntsville’s Camron Woodberry. Tristan Riggins ended Huntsville’s next possession with a 2-yard TD run, and with 50 seconds left in the quarter, AJ Wilson connected with Tyrique Carter for a 24-yard TD pass. “You can’t take anything away from Huntsville. They’re a great team,” Rudder head coach Eric Ezar said. “They went four rounds in the playoffs last year, and we played our hearts out. We just couldn’t get it done.” Compounding Rudder’s troubles, quarterback EJ Ezar suffered an injury that forced him out of the game for a short time. EJ Ezar laid on the ground after throwing an incompletion, then limped to the sideline where athletic trainers appeared to check his right leg. He later returned in time to hand off to running back James Ayers, who scored on a 19-yard run with 2:19 left in the first half. “He’s okay,” Eric Ezar said. “When your dad’s the head coach, you don’t get too much sympathy, so I just told him to get back in there and go get it.” Despite trailing by 24 at halftime, Eric Ezar said the team believed it could rally in the second half. “We told them, ‘Hey, we can come back,’” Eric Ezar said. “We’ve come back from 24 down three times, so we felt like we could [again].” Rudder cut its deficit to 31-14 on a wild play as EJ Ezar recovered a teammate’s fumble and carried it 20 yards for a TD with 8:12 left in the third quarter, momentarily stoking the flames for a bigger rally. But Rudder later had a touchdown called back, and its offense struggled to find a rhythm the rest of the second half. “I am real proud of the kids,” Eric Ezar said. “The kids had a great season. I know it gets kind of dampened by the loss tonight, but they had the second best season in Rudder history, and that is something we can build on for next year.” The Rangers also celebrated Senior Night, and Eric Ezar said the team benefitted greatly from the leadership provided by its 16 seniors this season. “We’ve got a lot of people coming back, but the seniors did a great job of really leading, and we wouldn’t have been 5-5 if it wasn’t for our seniors,” Eric Ezar said....

11/8/2019

Rudder sophomore quarterback EJ Ezar broke loose for several first-down scrambles against A&M Consolidated on Friday night, but on fourth down late in the fourth quarter, sophomore defensive end Jaden Thomas wasn’t going to let it happen again. Thomas shook off a block and dragged down Ezar for no gain with under two minutes left, securing the Tigers’ 25-14 victory in District 10-5A Division II play at Tigerland Stadium. “Early on, I messed up by going out too wide, and the coaches got on to me about it a couple times,” Thomas said. “But at the end of the game, I broke it down and did what I was taught to do and got the stop.” The victory clinched at least share of the district championship for the fourth-ranked Tigers (9-0, 6-0) with one game left in the regular season. Rudder (5-4, 3-3) is still in the hunt for its first playoff appearance in program history, needing a victory over Huntsville next week at Merrill Green Stadium. “They need to enjoy the way they played, because they played probably as good as they have all year,” Rudder head coach Eric Ezar said. “Next week, we’re going to play Huntsville, who is another great team. We’re just going to have play [great] two weeks in a row and find a way to win, find a way to make plays at the end.” Rudder stuck around in a low-scoring slugfest in which each team turned the ball over twice. Rudder trailed 17-7 at halftime, and a bad snap on a punt resulted in a safety on the Rangers’ first drive of the second half. But they bounced back quickly, recovering a Consol fumble and marching 94 yards in nine plays with EJ Ezar tossing a perfect pass down the right sideline to junior receiver Keithron Lee for a 26-yard touchdown to cut Consol’s lead to 19-14 with 5:15 left in the third quarter. That was as close as Rudder got, though, as Consol senior cornerback Xavier Stewart intercepted a pass on the Rangers’ next drive, and Consol senior Kerry Brooks busted out of a pile for a 28-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter. Consol’s defense took over from there, forcing a pair of turnovers on downs to seal the win. Thomas, junior defensive end Vince Sheffield and senior defensive back Nate Floyd each recorded sacks, and the Tigers held the Rangers to just over 3 yards per carry. Consol’s new-look secondary, with Floyd at safety and senior Jaylen Harrison starting at Floyd’s corner spot, gave up a couple big pass plays but showed improvement in its second week following an injury to all-state safety Bryce Linder. “They communicated better,” Consol head coach Lee Fedora said. “We were in good coverage, and a lot of times the catches they had, we were in the right place. We just need to knock the ball loose.” Senior quarterback Gage Pahl powered the Tiger offense early with a pair of first-quarter touchdown runs. He scrambled for a 14-yard score midway through period and bounced back from an interception with an 18-yard touchdown on an option keeper with 1:21 left in the first. Pahl was shaken up on a sack by Rudder’s Dylan Preston on the next drive and left the game. Trainers looked at his throwing hand and wrist area on the sideline, and he sat out the rest of the second quarter before returning in the second half. Pahl finished with 26 yards on nine rushes and 136 yards on 7-of-14 passing, and he added a 35-yard catch on a halfback pass from Brooks, who also had eight carries for 69 yards. Colby McBerty added a 31-yard field goal to give Consol a 17-0 lead with 6:47 left in the first half. EJ Ezar also shrugged off a first-half interception, sneaking in for a 1-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 17-7 with 3:40 left in the half. The score was set up by an electric 36-yard run by Lee, who finished with 94 yards from scrimmage. Lee also snagged the first-half interception of Pahl, stopping a drive deep in Rudder territory, and Patrick Dougherty countered with the interception for Consol. Dougherty made an athletic grab on the sideline, leaping backward and extending his arm for a one-handed interception. • NOTES — Consol seniors and their parents were honored before the game in a Senior Night ceremony. ... Floyd, who normally wears No. 8, wore Linder’s No. 7 jersey as part of a tribute Consol is doing following the latter’s season-ending knee injury. Senior DB Jamarquis Stewart wore it last week against Montgomery Lake Creek. Linder underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL on Oct. 23. ... The Tigers also were playing without senior Brian Darby, who was held out for precautionary reasons as he continues to deal with a nagging ankle injury suffered against Huntsville on Sept. 27. ... The victory clinched a home bi-district playoff game for the Tigers as the top two seeds in each district will host in the first round in both Class 6A and 5A....

11/2/2019

RJ Rubio and Nathan Ybarra have a typical brotherly relationship in many ways. They attend each other’s sporting events, which right now means Rudder football games for Rubio, a senior wide receiver for the Rangers. Ybarra razzes Rubio for his long, black hair. But there are several ways in which Rubio’s and Ybarra’s relationship is unusual. Ybarra, 23, has Down syndrome. Rubio used to take him to life skills classes such as cooking and is involved in Ybarra’s other activities and athletics, fondly recalling a rugby outing with players from Texas A&M. Ybarra also competes in track and field through Special Olympics, which Rubio helps with. “It changed my view on everything,” Rubio said. “Never judge a book by its cover. We’re all the same, just some of us are better in special ways.” Ybarra and Rubio’s mother, Rosalinda Rubio, formed the basis of his character and helped him develop a deep faith, and Rubio says he’s inspired by his older brother to stay hopeful and upbeat. Rubio also is involved with local Down syndrome groups and says he learned kindness and a loving attitude from Ybarra as well as people involved in those organizations. “I know what [Ybarra] has been through when he had heart surgery,” Rubio said. “He always asks for me, so I’m always going to bring him with me no matter what.” That positivity bleeds onto the football field. Rubio, a team captain, was chosen as one of the first members of the player council and is an uplifting presence for the Rangers (4-3, 2-2 District 19-5A) as they head into the final three games of the season. First up is a road game against Cleveland at 7:30 p.m. Friday. “It doesn’t matter what size or what problems you’ve got,” Rubio said. “You can do anything with faith. It doesn’t matter if you’re tall, short, not that strong.” Rubio introduced Rudder head coach Eric Ezar to Ybarra at the beginning of the season, and Ezar was struck by the loving bond between the brothers. Rubio brought Ybarra to Thursday’s walkthrough, and Rudder players welcomed him with high-fives. “When things go bad, he’s the first one to [say], ‘Hey guys, keep your head up,’” Ezar said of Rubio. “We need kids like that … he’s one of those kids who keeps them going and changes their point of view because he is so positive.” The 5-foot-4, 135-pound Rubio wears several hats for the Rangers, filling several special teams roles in addition to his position at wide receiver. That translates outside of football, too, as he’s also involved in wrestling, track, powerlifting, baseball and the PALS program at Rudder. Rubio wants to give back, not just to his family but the Rudder coaches, including longtime coach Stewart Donley. He wants to major in history and pursue a career in teaching and coaching, and Ezar would be happy to have Rubio on his staff one day. “I would hire him in a second,” Ezar said. “[Offensive coordinator Edgar Vasquez] was a quarterback for me at L.D. Bell, and I’ve hired him, so Rubio would be high on that list. If he gets that teaching degree, I would hire him in a second."...

11/1/2019

It wasn’t pretty at first, but the Rudder football team regrouped to beat Cleveland 42-6 in District 10-5A Division II action Friday night. The Rangers (5-3, 3-2) scored less than a minute into the game on a 38-yard pass from sophomore quarterback EJ Ezar to junior wide receiver Keithron Lee, but the Indians (0-8, 0-5) ended Rudder’s next two drives with interceptions, one of them leading to an easy touchdown. Trace Owen’s interception set up Cleveland at the Rudder 11-yard line, and quarterback Devonte Robertson scored on a 6-yard run three plays later. An incomplete pass on the two-point conversion attempt preserved Rudder’s lead. Robertson led Cleveland in rushing with 63 yards on 30 carries and had 64 passing yards on 5-of-15 passing as Rudder held the Indians to 122 yards of total offense. “We just told them to keep fighting,” Rudder head coach Eric Ezar said. “Cleveland had a coaching change, so we didn’t know really what to expect offensively. They kind of ran some different stuff from what they’ve shown on film. In the second half, we made some adjustments. The wind was blowing. The passes were going all over the place, but we settled down and got it together.” Lee later showed off his electricity with the ball when he changed speed, juked to avoid defenders and darted into the end zone on a 62-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. Senior wide receiver RJ Rubio extended Rudder’s lead on a 19-yard TD run over the front right pylon for his first touchdown as a Ranger. “[EJ Ezar] battled back, threw three touchdown passes, two in the second half, so I was really proud of him,” Eric Ezar said. “The wind was kind of crazy tonight, because it’s kind of swirling a little bit, so I think he figured out the wind or it died down. I’m not exactly sure, but we were able to get it going.” Cleveland opened the second half with a long drive, eating up much of the third-quarter clock, but Rudder’s defense led by Tre McLenton and Desmond Murphy clamped down to get the ball back. The Rangers responded with a six-play drive capped by a 2-yard TD run by EJ Ezar around the left end. Rudder then had a pair of sacks toward the end of the third quarter to force a Cleveland punt, and the Rangers scored on the first play of the fourth quarter as junior Marcus Diles caught a 46-yard TD pass from EJ Ezar. EJ Ezar and Lee connected one more time on a 14-yard TD pass with just over seven minutes left. EJ Ezar finished with 184 yards on 10-of-14 passing, throwing three TDs and two interceptions. Lee caught three passes for 67 yards and had three carries for 83 yards. Rudder has two games left in the regular season, needing one win over either Huntsville or A&M Consolidated to have a chance for the program’s first playoff berth. First up is No. 4 Consol, which beat Montgomery Lake Creek 66-26 on Friday. The Rangers will face the Tigers at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Tigerland Stadium. “I told the kids that somewhere tomorrow there will be a huge upset in college football,” Eric Ezar said. “Somewhere on Sunday, there will be a huge upset that no one thinks they can do, so, hey, we’ve got a shot at it, so that’s the big thing.”...

10/26/2019

For Rudder football coach Eric Ezar and everyone on the home side at Merrill Green Stadium on Friday night, it must’ve felt like the game clock might never reach zero. The Rangers led throughout but had to wait to the final seconds, which came more than 3 hours and 10 minutes after the opening kickoff, to clinch a 35-28 Homecoming victory over Montgomery Lake Creek on Friday in District 10-5A-II play. “It did take forever,” Ezar said. “And it wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win.” Twenty-three penalties slowed the game and made for some nervous and frustrating moments on both sides, before the Rangers finally took a knee after a facemask penalty on the Lions gave them the first down they needed to run out the clock. Lake Creek had 11 penalties for 76 yards, while Rudder surrendered 143 yards on 12 penalties. “We made great plays, moved the ball great, but it’s really frustrating to your kids when you are trying to keep them under control,” Ezar said. “There were some crazy calls tonight. I’ll leave it at that.” Rudder’s Roy Ayers rushed for 188 yards on 20 carries, scoring on a 69-yard catch in the first half and a 37-yard run in the second. In between the TDs, he was crowned Homecoming king during the halftime ceremony beside queen Bre’ajah Brown. “This is going to be a special one for me today,” Ayers said. “I’m going to remember it for a long time, because it’s a big moment for me. But it’s not just me — it’s about my whole team and what we put into it. We knew we had to pull this one off, because we had lost the two games before this one.” The Rangers looked as if they were going to make a quick night of it, scoring three times in 5:22 in the second quarter. On consecutive drives, EJ Ezar bulled his way over from the 1 and threw touchdown passes to Marcus Diles and Ayers to put Rudder (4-3, 2-2) up 21-0. Rudder moved the ball well in the first quarter, but penalties halted drives and negated a touchdown and a 31-yard field goal by Kristoffer Kindt. The Rangers had no trouble completing drives on the next three possessions, partly because of excellent field position and partly because their receivers started getting behind the Lake Creek secondary. TOP ARTICLES 1/5 READ MORE Little known of long-term effects of vaping as regulatory inaction continues A botched punt snap set up the Rangers at the Lions’ 31-yard line for the first touchdown. A punt of only 23 yards set up Rudder at the Lake Creek 44 for the second TD. For the third score, Ayers ran down the middle of the field, racing free through the Lions’ secondary on the 69-yard TD reception. “We worked on that all week long, and Coach kept on begging me and begging me that we had to make this work,” Ayers said. “I knew he was going to call it sometime. I didn’t know when, but I knew when it came up I had to catch it and make the play.” Rudder needed every first-half point as Lake Creek struck just as quickly in the second half, with Bryce Jones returning the opening kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown. Then after stopping the Rangers at the goal line and recovering a fumble, Lake Creek’s Blake Wiley turned a simple out route into an 88-yard touchdown catch. “You are up 21-0 , feeling pretty good, and you get a little tight, and as a coach you kind of change your philosophy about, hey, lets run the ball, get some clock and don’t give them a chance,” Eric Ezar said. “They got back in the game, and it became a dogfight. Then it seems like you get a big play, and there is a yellow hanky down there. Our kids lost their cool at times, but they are teachable moments.” Keithron Lee gave Rudder some breathing room with a 2-yard TD run for a 28-14 lead. Octavious Taylor’s recovery of an onside kick and Ayers’ 43-yard run set up the score. Lake Creek (3-4, 1-3) answered with its best drive of the night, moving 76 yards in seven plays, the final one a 2-yard run by Alejandro Cardenas. Then the penalties came fast and furious with four marked off during a drive that Ayers finished with his 37-yard TD run to give Rudder a 35-21 lead. “We had a big stop, and we had to score and get the momentum back,” Eric Ezar said. “I’m really proud of our kids, because they could have turned the other way. [Ayers] had a big night, awesome night, so proud of him. He was unbelievable.” Four more penalties got walked off during Lake Creek’s next drive which ended in a punt to the Rudder 10. Three plays later, Walker Lanier intercepted a pass and ran it back to the Rudder 2. Gunn then scored on a 1-yard run to shave Rudder’s lead to 35-28 with 3:46 remaining. Three personal fouls were called on the touchdown run, and Lake Creek kicked off from the Rudder 45 — the Lions’ onside attempt went out of bounds. Lake Creek only had one time out remaining and Rudder ran out the clock from there with the final first down coming on a facemask penalty. Rudder’s three touchdowns in the second quarter came after a 10-minute stoppage in play when the Lions’ Zach Hazelwood caught a pass, got tackled and laid motionless on the ground. He was taken to a hospital, and at the end of the game Lake Creek assistant coaches in the press box had received no report on his condition....

10/19/2019

Whether it’s school, work or football, Rudder senior Alvin Dunn gets it done, so it’s no surprise that he fulfills several roles for the Rangers. Dunn lines up at running back, wide receiver, and this week, middle linebacker, but he also serves as a member of the eight-player leadership council and is one of four team captains. “Everyone has a say-so, so everyone’s really a leader in our eyes,” Dunn said. “It’s just a matter of titles.” Rudder head coach Eric Ezar saw leadership come naturally to Dunn, who enjoys leading by example but isn’t afraid to speak up. “He’s just a hardworking kid,” Ezar said. “I don’t know if it comes from his parents or just his genes. He’s one of those quiet, hardworking kids. … if I could reproduce him into about 49, I think I could win a state championship.” That work ethic served Dunn well through the workload of 7 a.m. film sessions, several AP classes, helping family and a job at Walmart. With help from his parents, he bought a 2009 Buick sedan, which helps him fulfill all his obligations. “I learned that money doesn’t grow on trees,” Dunn said with a laugh, “and I learned the satisfaction of working hard for my stuff. I don’t really like my parents buying stuff for me; I like to work for my stuff.” Football also taught him how to make the most of opportunities, so Dunn tries to give back as often as possible, even as he walks through his neighborhood. “If I see someone on my street homeless, I’ll go to the store and give them Gatorade or give them food, or if I have some change in my pocket, I’ll give them that,” he said. The Rangers’ road to their first-ever playoff berth got tougher with losses to Lamar Consolidated and Katy Paetow, but there’s still four games to go. Rudder (3-3, 1-2) is motivated heading into a matchup against Montgomery Lake Creek at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Montgomery ISD Stadium. Dunn wants his team to avoid a slow start against the Bears (3-3, 1-2) and come out faster and harder. “We had a lot of setbacks that we didn’t think we were going to face,” Dunn said. “We faced adversity, and now it’s time for us to deal with it.” Through that adversity, Dunn’s leadership hasn’t changed, Ezar said. With so many leaders on the team, Dunn’s brand of leadership by example gives younger players a model. “He’s one of the leaders everybody looks up to,” Ezar said. “That’s why he made the player council, as a respect thing for the way he works.” Though making school history is the goal for this season, Dunn knows there’s more to achieve for him and his teammates. His last few games are bittersweet, but he is looking forward to the future and plans to attend Texas State next year. “[Ezar] always talks about better men, husbands, better fathers,” Dunn said. “If we have a career after, I’ll be [happier] than if we made the playoffs and didn’t have a career afterwards.”...

10/18/2019

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