Rebounding from 0-10 season, Hamlin handles winless TLCA-Abilene

HAWLEY − Hamlin coach Chris Evans has been down this path.

Rather, up this hill.

The Pipers played in the 2019 state championship game, experiencing the thrill of competing at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

Last year, Hamlin went 0-10 and scored two touchdowns all season.

On Thursday night, the Pipers traveled here, not to play the powerhouse Bearcats but to take on winless Texas Leadership Charter Academy of Abilene. For this season, Forrest Field in the home field for the Eagles, who are playing 11-man football for the first time.

It looked like it, even halfway through the season.

Hamlin got two touchdowns in the first five minutes of the game and rolled to a 65-0 win to open District 6-2A play. The Pipers are 5-1, winning five straight after being shut out by Stamford in their opener.

Hamlin's Zayiman Montoya (7) runs down the sideline as TLCA-Abilene's Johnathon Rico gives chase. Hamlin beat the Eagles 65-0 in the District 6-2A Division II game Thursday in Hawley.
Hamlin's Zayiman Montoya (7) runs down the sideline as TLCA-Abilene's Johnathon Rico gives chase. Hamlin beat the Eagles 65-0 in the District 6-2A Division II game Thursday in Hawley.

Encouragement for Eagles

Evans had words of encouragement for TLCA.

"We've been following them and they obviously are getting better. They've just got a lot of young guys who will continue to develop over the next few years," Evans said.

The Pipers scored a touchdown on every possession until taking a knee three times to end the game after getting to the TLCA 1-yard line.

The Eagles, meanwhile, are 0-5 and likely won't win a game.

Still, TLCA fans made a 14-mile drive out of town for the home game. This being October, many fans - and Eagles coaches - wore bright pink "Beat Cancer: Go Fight Win" T-shirts.

Evans appreciated that support because it was hard for Hamlin fans see their Pipers go from 23-4 over two seasons to 0-10 in 2021.

"I came from a successful program and Hamlin's been successful. That's hard on a community to go through that 0-10 and go through those struggles," the Pipers coach said. Injuries and losing 18 seniors "made for a long year," he said. "But we're getting dividends from that this year with guys who had to play last year.

"For these guys, their dividends are going to pay off at TLCA over the next couple of years as these young guys just continue to get better."

Hamlin receiver Benjamin White, right, looks for running room after a catch as the TLCA-Abilene defense gives chase.
Hamlin receiver Benjamin White, right, looks for running room after a catch as the TLCA-Abilene defense gives chase.

Still, TLCA is struggling

Young players make mistakes, and TLCA made many mistakes - missed blocks, missed tackles, short punts, let Hamlin receivers get wide open and the Eagles struggled to corral Pipers kickoffs. Getting the ball to start the second half, Hamlin recovered at the TLCA 25 and scored on Clayton Rister's 8-yard run two plays later.

The Eagles ran 12 plays in an abbreviated second half.

TLCA coach Jeremy Kirk said Evans told him, "Coach, you're where we were at a year ago. I fully agree with that. Starting a program, you can't expect to come in and win any games, to be honest."

It was apparent that Hamlin was the better team Thursday, so two things happened as the game went on. The game clock ran continuously and Hamlin, which suited up junior varsity players, got its younger players quality snaps in the second half.

That sportsmanship leveled the playing field at bit.

"We brought everybody tonight," Evans said. "We felt like it was an opportunity for guys to get some time they might not otherwise. They don't have a JV, so we just suited them up. They got some valuable time on the field."

The Eagles have 14 freshmen, including starting quarterback Jonathan Rico. on their roster.

"He played well. He did everything we asked him to," Kirk said. "The problem is when the other pieces around him don't fall into place."

When mistakes are made, "your kids deflate," he said.

Hamlin senior Colton Spalding scored three touchdowns on runs of 4, 2 and 37 yards, the latter making it 41-0 at halftime.

The Pipers' Swenson Benavides threw a 31-yard TD pass to Benjamin White and ran 1 yard for a touchdown. He wears No. 4.

In the second half, a JV player also wearing No. 4, Isaiah Hutchings, found himself wide open and caught a 36-yard scoring throw from Ian Gruben, another freshman. Gruben also ran a yard for the final touchdown of the game and passed to Jantz Botos, a sophomore, for a two-point conversion.

First downs were hard to come by for TLCA. Rico, ran 2 yards for one and passed 14 yards to Manuel Rios for another in the first half. There were none in the second half.

Hamlin's A.J. Rivera (3) tries to break loose from TLCA-Abilene's Johnathon Rico in the first quarter.
Hamlin's A.J. Rivera (3) tries to break loose from TLCA-Abilene's Johnathon Rico in the first quarter.

Not easy road ahead

It's not going to get any easier for either team.

Hamlin has Miles (4-1) at home, goes to Cross Plains (5-0), is back home against preseason No. 1 but injury bitten Albany (3-2)) and at Roscoe (2-2).

TLCA has those same opponents.

What Kirk has to work on is keeping his players' spirits up.

"I felt like we shut down so fast," he said of his team struggling after getting behind. "We don't understand that it's 48 minutes. We see it as a 7-minute game, and it's over."

Hamlin's team has grown up physically and mentally, Evans said. The players understand his system better this year. And injuries are down this year.

Pipers fans have responded.

"They get excited seeing the kids get excited," he said.

TLCA-Abilene's Malachi Gutierrez (33) waits to catch a pass from quarterback Johnathon Rico in the first quarter against Hamlin.
TLCA-Abilene's Malachi Gutierrez (33) waits to catch a pass from quarterback Johnathon Rico in the first quarter against Hamlin.

DISTRICT 6-2A OPENER

Hamlin 65, Texas Leadership Charter Academy 0

Hamlin

21

20

16

8

65

TLCA_Abilene

0

0

0

0

0

FIRST QUARTER

HAM − Colton Spalding 4 run (Nathan Jones kick)

HAM - Clayton Rister 19 run (Jones kick)

HAM - Spalding 2 run (Jones kick)

SECOND QUARTER

HAM − Benjamin White 31 pass from Swenson Benavides (kick failed)

HAM - Benavides 1 run (Jantz Botos pass from Ian Gruben)

HAM - Spalding 37 run (run failed)

THIRD QUARTER

HAM − Rister 8 run (Dominic Guerrero run)

HAM - Isaiah Hutchings 36 pass from Gruben (Hudson Smith run)

FOURTH QUARTER

HAM− Gruben 1 run (Smith run)

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Rebounding from 0-10 season, Hamlin handles winless TLCA-Abilene