After three straight games in Athens and a fourth in Lindale, the Tyler Junior College Apaches are happy to finally host Trinity Valley Community College at their home stadium - Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
The two rivals matchup on Saturday on Earl Campbell Field. Kickoff for the Southwest Junior College Football Conference game is 7 p.m.
The No. 2 Cardinals are coming off a 66-56 loss to No. 5 Nassau (New York) last week in Athens. It will be the Apaches first game of the 2015 season.
"I know Trinity Valley is going to come in here mad after dropping their opener," TJC coach Danny Palmer said. "The fans are in for a treat - a game between two rivals and two good football teams."
After going unbeaten at year ago with a 12-0 record, including two wins over Tyler the Cardinals were hoping the game with Nassau would start their season on a high note that would continue to the national championship game.
The loss hurts their chances for a national title, but do not eliminate Cardinals from contention. However, a loss on Saturday would likely do so.
Also, the winner of the clash has early momentum as the conference leader.
The Apaches have duo threat quarterbacks returning in Sederian Copeland (6-0, 175, sophomore, Dallas Skyline) and Tevin Muse (6-2, 200, sophomore, Mansfield Timberview).
Copeland threw for 1,833 yards last year with 20 touchdown passes and just three interceptions. Muse passed for 919 yards with 10 TD passes and five INTs. Copeland was the second-leading rusher with 504 yards and seven TDs.
Gone is the nation's leading TD scorer in Chaston Bennett (now at Kennesaw State). The Rusk native scored 25 TDs (24 rushing) with 1,438 yards rushing.
Set to try and replace Bennett are Ken Burks (75-468, 6 TDs in 2014), Terrance Taylor (sophomore, Diboll), freshman Kee Kee Johnson (Bryan) and Aron Dobbins (freshman, Midland Lee).
TJC's top receivers are back in Ryan Parker (6-1, 180, Keller Fossil Ridge) and Melvinson Hartfield (5-11, 185, Dallas South Oak Cliff). Parker, who has committed to Oklahoma, had 47 receptions for 841 yards with 16 TDs a year ago, while Hartfield added 55 passes for 593 yards and three TDs.
The starting line up front has left tackle Craig Smith (6-6, 330, sophomore, Palm Royal, Florida), left guard Spencer Hendee (6-4, 285, sophomore, Round Rock), center Jon Aguilar (6-1, 285, sophomore, Lubbock Roosevelt), right guard Christopher Abo-Shear (6-3, 330, sophomore, Jersey Village), right tackle Andreu Kirby (6-4, 335, Euless Trinity) and tight end Buddy Tuamasaga (6-5, 245, sophomore, Pago Pago HS, American Samoan Islands).
Defensively, the Apaches' two leading tacklers are returning in linebackers Tupe Saunoa (6-0, 235, Euless Trinity) and Somari Wright (6-2, 245, Cameron Yoe). Also, rush end Joshua Wheeler (6-3, 255, South Grand Prairie) led the squad in sacks with eight.
The Cardinals are an explosive team that gained 754 yards against Nassau last week (299 rushing, 455 passing). TVCC was hurt by big returns by the Lions and 22 penalties.
Jerod Evans (6-4, 225) leads the Cardinal attack. The sophomore from Mansfield hit on 34 of 52 pass attempts for 449 yards and five TD passes.
His favorite receiver was Emmanuel Harris (5-10, 195, sophomore, Dallas Skyline), who hauled in 10 catches for 127 yards and two TDs. Brownsboro product Nick Jones (6-4, 225, sophomore) had four catches for 48 yards and a TD.
Cedric Battle (5-9, 175, freshman, Wichita Falls Hirschi) rushed for 97 yards on eight carries. He scored on a 48-yard run.
SMOKE SIGNALS - Reserve seating is $5 with general admission $3. TJC faculty, staff and students are admitted free. … The nationally ranked TJC soccer teams get their seasons underway on Saturday with a doubleheader at Jacksonville College. The No. 5-ranked Apache Ladies are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. followed by the defending national champions and No. 1-ranked Apaches. … The Apache Ladies' home opener is Sunday at Pat Hartley Field. TJC will host No. 8 Laramie County (Wyoming) at 7 p.m. … Both teams will be home on Tuesday as well - the Apache Ladies will play North Lake College at 6 p.m., followed by the Apaches against Richland College at 7:30 p.m.