Knowing the amount of returning talent he had off last year's state runner-up team, Kevin Spiller decided it was best for the Trinity Christian football team to run the gauntlet in non-district play.
The Lions' 2-2 record isn't remarkable, but the quality of their competition has been — the two losses coming to fellow state-title contenders.
It was at the tail end of one of those losses, a 35-25 setback to Argyle Liberty Christian, that Spiller thought the Lions started to find something. That momentum carried over to the following game, where Trinity dominated New Deal for a 42-10 victory.
"It was one of those things where I felt like the kids felt like we figured a few things out," Spiller said. "Like I told them after the game, we kind of clicked in all facets of the game. I felt like it would happen. I felt like we could play with New Deal, but I was totally surprised by the way we were able to really control most of the ball game.
"... That really turned our spirits around and realized that we're gonna be OK."
The Lions are coming off their bye week as they prepare to host Denver City for their homecoming game. Building off of the New Deal victory is part of the grander scheme for the Lions, who have championship aspirations that non-district play won't have any say in.
However, Spiller recognized the team he had at his disposal and wanted to use the early part of the season to get as much out of his players as he could.
That's proven to be effective.
Everybody knows that the Lions are going to get the ball to their three-star playmaker and Texas Tech commit Marcus Ramon-Edwards. The versatile running back accounts for more than half of Trinity's overall offense, having rushed for 508 yards and eight touchdowns.
To Spiller, how far the Lions go this season was always going to come down to those around Ramon-Edwards. Trinity's found a few players for that role, including quarterback Eli Reeves.
The junior had never played the most important position on the field before, but he's been efficient in his role.
"He is a smoother operator at quarterback," Spiller said of Reeves. "... He makes good decisions. He's hard to get a hold of. He's deceptively fast. ... Reeves really has been a very pleasant surprise and really, really making a difference."
The run-first Lions also rely heavily on their offensive line, led by Hunter Mastin. Trinity has gained 970 yards on the ground through four games and average 7 yards per carry thanks to the guys up front.
Denver City, meanwhile, is trying to find the rhythm that the Lions have attained. Playing a tough schedule as well, the Mustangs are 2-3 entering Friday's non-district finale.
The next two contests may be the toughest of the season. After Trinity, the Mustangs open district play next week against currently undefeated Brownfield.
Despite the Mustangs' record, Spiller sees this game as another tough test, similar to ones his team has already faced.
"Their record doesn't really exemplify what a good football team they are," Spiller said. "They are very athletic. ... They're going to be a handful."
On the Radar
➤ Muenster Sacred Heart (4-0, 1-0) at Lubbock Christian (4-0, 1-0) — The Eagles' second district game sees them hosting perhaps their biggest challenge. Both teams are stout defensively, but Lubbock Christian was put up 54.5 points per game this season.
➤ Brownfield (5-0) at Muleshoe (4-1) — Bi-district opponents in the playoffs a year ago, Brownfield and Muleshoe are looking to keep their hot streaks alive. The Mules' lone loss of the season came against Littlefield, which Brownfield dispatched a week ago.
➤ Olton (4-0) at Vega (1-4) — The mismatched records may be deceiving. Vega's losses have come to teams with a combined record of 15-4, while Olton's four wins are against opponents who are 7-12 overall. This will be a big measuring stick for the Mustangs, who have mostly coasted to big wins.
➤ Nazareth (5-0) at No. 10 Whitharral (4-1) — A pair of stout six-man teams will collide. Each team should like its chances at making the playoffs, but a win could give either confidence to contend for a district title down the road as well.
➤ Big Spring (4-1) at Seminole (4-1) — Big Spring's riding a four-game winning steak while Seminole's offense continues to be explosive. Which team will get the momentum boost before district play?
Denver City at Trinity Christian
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Archie Warwick Memorial Stadium
Records: Denver City 2-3, Trinity Christian 2-2
Coverage: Follow @NathanGiese on Twitter for live updates, with postgame analysis, videos and stories to appear on lubbockonline.com.
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Games to Watch: Starting to click, Trinity Christian football welcomes Denver City