SHINER - The Shiner team that takes the field against Agua Dulce will bear very little resemblance to the team that began the season. When Shiner (7-3) meets Agua Dulce (5-4)in a Class 1A area playoff game today at 7 p.m. at Victoria's Memorial Stadium, it will have different starters at two linebacker positions, defensive end, offensive center and tight end.
It's been an unusual season for the Comanches, who made the playoffs as the runners-up in District 30-1A.
Of the 20 players who were on the varsity at the beginning of the year, four were lost to injuries, one for disciplinary reasons and nine players missed two or more games because of injuries.
"It's been hard"' said Shiner coach Billy Turek. "It's real frustrating. It's hard to get any consistency when you're just switching people around"
Shiner coach Billy Turek, right, leads the Comanches into their Class 1A area playoff game against Agua Dulce tonight at Victoria's Memorial Stadium. Frank Tilley
Advocate Photo Editor
Turek has had to abandon Shiner's traditional two-platoon policy and put a lot of inexperienced players on the field.
"We're relying on freshman and sophomores like we never have before," Turek said. "We're not doing it because we want to. We're doing it because we have to."
A perfect example is at center where sophomore Brady Strauss has stepped in despite never before playing the position. In addition, freshman Chris Baer has joined sophomore Stephen Evans and junior Ryan Spann at the linebacker positions.
"We've hung in there," said Turek, who gives much of the credit to the seniors such as Josh Smith, who wears a visor to protect an eye injury that sidelined him earlier this season, and Shawn Flores, who Turek calls "the backbone of the offense and defense."
Flores starts on the offensive and defensive lines and has had to tutor many of the younger players.
"It was hard at the beginning of the year because we had more people. going both ways," Flores said. "But we had to find a way to get it done. The seniors had to lead a little more and help them out when they needed help."
The biggest boost Shiner got was when sophomore quarterback Garet Pustka returned from an injury to join running backs Bryan Frankin, Eric Murphy and Baer in Shiner's veer offense.
"Once we got Pustka back, it made a big difference," Turek said. "He's got three or four years in our system and knows how to run the offense. We've also got good backs and that has helped."
What has helped Shiner the most since dropping a 23-18 decision to Falls City; is holding on to the ball. The Comanches lost only one fumble in a 49-3 win over Sabinal and lost two in a 42-6 bi-district win over Medina.
"We've been able to eliminate most of our fumbles," Turek said. "When we don't fumble, we score points because our backfield is mostly intact.
The Comanches have done a good job for most of the season in keeping their opponents off the scoreboard. The Shiner defense has yielded one touchdown or less in six games.
"We've really played well on defense, especially lately," Turek said. "We haven't given up a defensive touchdown in the last two games."
Shiner will look to continue that streak against the Longhorns, who received a bi-district bye after winning the District 32-1A championship.
"We're just trying to play, basically," Flores said. "Each week, I want us to get better and better."
Turek knows regardless of who is on the field, the Comanches must continue to get better if they want to equal or surpass last year's run to the quarterfinals.
"If all these injuries had hit us when we were in Class 2A, we would have been in trouble," Threk said. "But being in Class 1A gives us a chance to compete."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for The Victoria Advocate.
Contact him at 361-580-6588, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.