Merkel, Eastland set to open season Thursday


ABILENE, Texas - It is finally game week for high school football, but the week is a little shorter for two area teams.

Eastland and Merkel will play on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., and will kick-off the 13th annual Champions Classic, a three-day event at Shotwell Stadium.

"We've got to cram four days of preparation into three," Merkel head coach John Cornelius said. "That presents a problem for us, but we did have our playoff game last year on a Thursday so we do have some experience with it."

The Classic will also feature Abilene High hosting San Angelo Central on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and Abilene Christian High School taking on Weatherford Christian on Saturday at 6 p.m.

"I think we're 100% in the program of not playing in Shotwell before, so I know they're all excited for it," Eastland head coach James Morton said. "The big jumbotrons and things like that that go with the bigger programs. But at the same time you've got to walk the field, let them know it's 100 yards long just like the old practice field."

Though the Badgers' and Mavericks' week is shorter, they are both dealing with the changes well.

"It's different than what we've been used to, but I think when Thursday comes we'll be ready for hte game and we'll still have the football spirit of Friday," Merkel senior offensive and defensive lineman John Maples said.

"I'm excited to have Friday to watch film, so we can have extra time for the next game," Eastland senior linebacker Morgan Barker said.

The Mavericks blew out the Badgers, 50-6, in last year's season opener, but both expect a closer game on Thursday.

"I think [Merkel is] a lot better than last year," said Barker. It'll give us a bunch of good looks, a lot of blitzes. That's good for us because our backs need to learn to block better."

"I see a much improved team. I think coach Cornelius and his staff has really got them going in a good direction," said Morton, who is in his second season with Eastland. "The thing that jumps out at me first is their offensive line."

"We've been working on Eastland since the first day of camp. We've had an eye on this one all along," said Cornelius.

"Thursday night, when nobody else is really playing, on a bigger stage than we're used to, we're treating it like a playoff game. It's a playoff atmosphere."