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Braswell’s Cam Smith (7) catches a pass and runs past Lebanon Trail’s Kyle Ferry (24) at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex during the 2018 season.

When Braswell coach Cody Moore accepted the challenge of building the Bengals’ program from scratch, he knew it would take time.

Braswell combined for just five wins in its first three seasons, but with a talented core and 14 returning starters, Moore is optimistic that this year’s team is ready to take the next step.

The Bengals will have a chance to move toward that goal at 7 p.m. tonight when they open their fourth season at home against Red Oak, one of the up-and-coming programs in the state.

“I don’t think we’re owed anything,” Moore said. “We’ve progressed every year, and I don’t think this year will be an exception to that. We’re definitely better.”

Third-year quarterback Greyson Thompson and receiver Cam Smith will lead the offense, while senior safety Ben Blackmore anchors a Braswell defense that returns eight key players.

“I’m just excited about the opportunity to play a good team and see where we are,” Moore said. “Our guys have worked their tails off the last several months, and I know they’re anxious and excited to hit somebody other than themselves.”

Red Oak, which enters the season ranked No. 17 in Class 5A Division II by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, exceeded expectations last season by finishing with a 9-2 record and bi-district playoff appearance in Chris Ross’s first year as head coach of the Hawks.

Cornerback and Tulane commit Kevaris Hall returns as one of the premier playmakers on a stout Red Oak defense that allowed just 10.8 points per game last season.

“They’re good,” Moore said. “They’ve got some playmakers on both sides of the ball, and they present challenges throughout their entire lineup. Coach Ross does a great job. It’ll definitely be a good game.”

The Braswell defensive line will have its hands full with Red Oak running back CJ Palmer, who rushed for 783 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Junior quarterback Josh Ervin threw for 420 yards and six touchdowns in limited time as a sophomore last season and will also present a challenge.

Moore is confident that defensive linemen Braylen Butler, Amari Banks and the rest of the Bengals’ defense has the ability to prevent big plays from Red Oak’s offense, something Braswell struggled with a year ago in a 27-7 loss to the Hawks.

“I really hope everybody has as hard of a time blocking our D-Line as our offensive line does in practice,” Moore said. “They’re very disruptive, explosive and quick. It’s definitely one of the strengths on our team.”

Over the course of fall camp, Moore has talked about how pulling off an upset might just be what Braswell needs to get over the hump.

The Bengals have a chance to do it right out of the gate.

Score Predictions

Bronte Hermesmeyer -- Braswell 28, Red Oak 24

Matthew Brune -- Red Oak 23, Braswell 21

Steve Gamel -- Braswell 28, Red Oak 24

Reece Waddell -- Red Oak 28, Braswell 24

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