2015 Football Preview: Bridgeport raises expectations
By Travis Lisle
After finishing the season with an 8-4 record that included a playoff victory, expectations are high for the Bridgeport Bulls.
Adding credence to those expectations is the fact that the team is returning 14 starters to the roster, including eight on the defensive side of the ball.
With all that said, new skill position players and a lack of depth are two of the biggest concerns for the Bulls heading into the 2015 season.
Bridgeport began 2014 with an overtime loss to Mineral Wells, but the team regrouped in an overtime win over Boyd a week later.
That win was the first in a three-game streak that also saw the team taking close victories over Godley and Burkburnett.
A 28-13 win over Krum was bracketed by losses to Decatur and Celina in the fifth and seventh weeks of the season.
Following the loss to Celina, Bridgeport went on their best run of the season – a four-game winning streak over District 3-4A Division II rivals Aubrey, Anna and Bonham before defeating Ferris 35-14 in the bi-district round.
The Bulls return running backs Brazier Talley, Grayson Mathes and Eathan Anderson along with receiver Keenan Holdman.
Those four amassed 1,592 rushing yards in 2014, and Holdman added 872 receiving yards with 14 touchdowns.
The offense also brings back veteran offensive linemen Blake Boyd, Tyler Banner and Nate Ramirez.
Reggie Lane, Chance Pierce, Anthony Ortiz, Jacob Roberts, Chase Williams, Lane Morrow and Dillon McAllister will all return to a defense that allowed 30.5 points per game.
Coach Danny Henson said that despite the stats, the defensive unit was strong and should be even stronger in 2015.
“When you have an offense that doesn’t put a lot of importance on time of possession, it can hurt defensive stats,” Henson said. “With a quick-scoring offense, the defense typically spends a lot more time on the field. That unit came up very big for us, especially down the stretch.”
During Bridgeport’s four-game winning streak, the Bulls’ defense allowed just 12 points per game, 18.5 points fewer than the season average.
Bulls bring back explosive offense
The Bridgeport offense of 2014 averaged 414.3 yards per game, scoring 35.9 points behind a balanced attack.
The Bulls gained 225.5 yards through the air last season and managed another 188.8 yards on the ground.
“Our passing game should help our running game,” coach Danny Henson said. “Likewise, our running game should help our passing game. They should open each other up.”
With offensive weapons like Keenan Holdman, Brazier Talley and Grayson Mathes returning, the Bulls should continue their success moving the ball.
Holdman was a breakout star receiver for the Bulls as a junior, racking up 872 receiving yards and 14 receiving touchdowns, along with 206 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
“Keenan was our most explosive player,” Henson said. “He’s got the most quickness and the most speed.
“This year he’s not a rookie to football like he was last year, and he’s showing it. That one year of experience has made a big difference for him.”
Talley is coming off a 765-yard rushing season in which the running back scored nine touchdowns, and Mathes posted 438 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014.
“They’re very similar runners,” Henson said. “They have different body types, but there is really no drop-off when either of them are in the game. Eathan Anderson is another guy who can do a lot of good things for us.”
The Bulls look for Corbin Coleman to replace Trey Cook at the quarterback position.
Last season Cook posted a 111.7 quarterback rating, throwing 27 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
With limited opportunities, Coleman completed 18 of his 36 pass attempts for 169 yards.
“He’s done great so far,” Henson said. “He does a lot of things we like. He can make plays with his feet and get out of trouble. We’re excited about what he brings.”
The Bulls’ spread offense is largely based on completing short throws, getting the ball to playmakers in open space quickly.
“It’s a pretty comprehensive passing game,” Henson said. “Each year you have to adjust to the type of players you have. We’re still adjusting to what players do best and where they fit.”
The Bulls have already been hurt by injury, losing all-district receiver Chayton Stotts to a torn knee ligament.
Stotts finished last season third on the team in receptions.
Bridgeport also must overcome an inexperienced offensive line.
To help the young players up front, Henson is installing the offense incrementally, perfecting the base before moving on toward the more advanced aspects.
Experience to pay off for Bulls
The Bridgeport defense should be improved with the return of eight starters.
Regi Lane led the team with 86 tackles as a sophomore, and he looks to have an even better season this year.
According to his coach, Lane doesn’t have the physical tools that typically go along with a star linebacker, but his feel for the game is unquestionable.
“He made a lot of tackles last year,” Coach Danny Henson said. “He was just a sophomore. He was undersized and not the fastest, but he just knows how to play the game really well.
“He just goes out there and plays the game and his position. He’s great at film study, and he has a lot of the intangibles that make him a great linebacker.”
Chance Pierce will lead a defensive line after a phenomenal junior season in which the defensive end posted a team-high 12 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“He’s got a lot of strength and quickness,” Henson noted. “He’s not huge, but he has good size. It makes him a dynamic player. We hope to be good enough on the back end of the defense to help him make more plays.”
After playing cornerback his junior season, Dillon McAlister will make the position change to outside linebacker.
Lane Morrow will join McAlister at the outside linebacker spot.
Morrow recorded 28 tackles last season with two behind the line of scrimmage.
On the back end of the defense, last season’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Abe Huerta, returns alongside Chase Williams at the two safety spots.
Huerta had 72 tackles, two interceptions, three passes defended and a forced fumble in 2014.
Casey Riggs will take over a starting role at cornerback with backup experience from a season ago.
Although the defensive stats from last season don’t look strong, Henson said it has a lot to do with how the offense played.
“There were times when the defense held on to a lot of games for us,” he said. “The stats can be deceiving. If a program runs a really fast-paced offense that tries to press the issue and doesn’t have time-management as a priority, defensive stats usually struggle.”
Henson also said that the defense should be better after playing so many sophomores last season, gaining valuable experience.
The defense allowed 30.5 points per game on the season but tightened up during district play, giving up an average of 12 during the late-season, four-game winning streak.