- Greg Wille
BIG OPPORTUNITY: Salado challenges two-way force Jentsch, two-time reigning state champion Grandview
SET FOR THE NEXT TEST: Senior linebacker Peyton Miller (left) and senior safety/running back Wrook Brown helped Salado beat Troy 46-27 in last Friday's season opener. Coach Alan Haire's Eagles have a major opportunity in tonight's home opener at 7:30 at Eagle Stadium when they battle the No. 2-ranked Grandview Zebras, winners of the last two Class 3A Division I state championships. Grandview is powered by star senior quarterback/safety Dane Jentsch, the offensive and defensive MVP of both state title games. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
SALADO – If Salado head coach Alan Haire hadn't played college football with Grandview defensive assistant coach Clint Jentsch at Tarleton State in the early 1990s, Haire's Eagles and Jentsch's Zebras probably wouldn't be playing each other Friday night at 7:30 at Eagle Stadium.
But their longtime relationship is the primary reason that Salado is primed to battle one of Texas' premier small-school programs and one of the state's most accomplished superstar players in Grandview senior quarterback/safety Dane Jentsch, Clint's son.
“Clint was a couple years behind me at Tarleton, but we ran with the same groups,” said Haire, who played with standout linebacker Jentsch in 1990 and '91 and was a graduate assistant coach on the Texans' 1992 team. “What a good guy. That's kind of the reason we're playing. It's neat.”
Grandview has won the last two Class 3A Division I state championships and is fueled by reigning Associated Press Sports Editors 3A offensive player of the year Dane Jentsch, who was selected as both the offensive and defensive most valuable player of the 2018 and 2019 state championship games.
Coming off of a thorough 46-27 win over area rival Troy in last Friday's season opener at Mary Hardin-Baylor in which the Eagles rushed for 429 yards, 4A Division II Salado (1-0) gets a major test and opportunity tonight against Grandview (1-0), ranked No. 2 in the state in 3A Division I by Texas Football magazine.
“When you play against marquee programs, it's going to make us better win, lose or draw,” said Haire, whose Eagles take on an eventual or defending state champion for the second time in three games. Texarkana Pleasant Grove beat Salado 42-14 in an area-round playoff game last year en route to the 4A D-II state crown. “You see the experience Grandview has from playing 32 games the last two seasons.”
The Zebras swept through area District 10-3A D-I teams in last year's playoffs, eliminating Rockdale in the first round, Cameron Yoe in a Region III semifinal and Troy for the regional championship.
Grandview survived a stern challenge in its season opener against No. 4-ranked Malakoff. The Zebras of second-year head coach Ryan Ebner squandered a 14-point fourth-quarter lead to the Tigers but used Dane Jentsch's 16-yard touchdown run in overtime and then their defense's game-ending goal-line stand to prevail 31-24.
“Malakoff's offense is very dynamic and its quarterback (Darion Peace) gave Grandview some fits,” Haire said. “Malakoff played some great defense as well. They had a chance to win.”
Dane Jentsch passed for 238 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 75 yards including the go-ahead 16-yard dash in OT and caught a 16-yard TD pass from receiver Kason English on a trick play.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Jentsch is just as skilled a playmaker on defense from his free safety post. He recorded 11 tackles against Malakoff and forced a fumble that the Zebras recovered.
“Their quarterback is dynamic and makes them go. If you put (defensive) pressure on him, he'll tear you up. And if you sit back, he'll pick you apart,” Haire said of Jentsch. “On defense he's their leading tackler and roams around back there. Hopefully he has to work a lot (vs. Salado's offense).”
Jentsch went 4-1 as Grandview's starting quarterback as a freshman, then in 2018 he passed for 2,598 yards and 35 touchdowns and rushed for 16 TDs and more than 1,000 yards to help the 14-2 Zebras capture the first of their two consecutive state titles. Last year, Jentsch threw for 3,349 yards and 34 touchdowns, ran for 1,028 yards and 15 TDs and also snared eight interceptions as 15-1 Grandview repeated as state champ in Ebner's head coaching debut.
Another impactful – and more physically much more imposing – Zebra is 6-8, 250-pound senior tight end/defensive end Dametrious Crownover, a preseason all-state selection on defense and one of the country's top recruits as a tight end. His college scholarship offers include Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Christian, Alabama, Auburn, Arizona State, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana State, Miami (Fla.), Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Virginia Tech.
“He's definitely a mismatch,” Haire said. “In the red zone we might have to put three or four guys on him.”
Both Grandview lines feature senior Jacob Bayer, a 6-4, 290-pound offensive tackle and nose guard. Senior linebacker Matt Lehnhardt is a defensive leader, and senior Luke Ferguson and sophomore English are go-to receivers for the Zebras' offense.
Salado's customary Slot-T offense operated with ruthless efficiency against Troy last week, paced by its line's strong performance.
Senior fullback Noah Mescher carried 15 times for 173 yards with two long touchdowns, senior tailback Reid Vincent ran 15 times for 156 yards and a TD and sophomore halfback Caden Strickland rushed for 89 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Senior Wrook Brown is primarily a starting safety this season but he contributed a 35-yard TD reception from junior quarterback Hutton Haire and a 6-yard scoring run.
Although Troy star senior running back Zach Hrbacek racked up 284 rushing yards and four touchdowns of 15-plus yards, Salado's defense pitched a fourth-quarter shutout and limited the Trojans – who went 12-2 last year – to 26 passing yards.
“You always want to tackle better and get those key blocks downfield,” Alan Haire said. “I think our conditioning helped us (vs. Troy). In the first few weeks of the season, conditioning is really important. You want to see who can withstand four quarters, so I'm proud of our kids.”
Although the Eagles are relishing the opportunity to host state powerhouse Grandview, their coach emphasizes that it's only the second of their five non-district games before Salado opens its District 9-4A D-II schedule at home against Gatesville on Oct. 2.
“We've had a good week of workouts, but (the Grandview game) doesn't get you to the postseason,” Haire said. “Our schedule is pretty tough each week, so we can't make any one game bigger than another."
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