ENNIS — Ennis quarterback Clintin Buyan can still vividly recall the white-hot emotions following his team's stunning exit from the 8-Man playoffs last season.
The Mustangs had stormed to a comfortable 20-point lead over St. Ignatius in the first quarter of the quarterfinals. But some critical Ennis injuries and a furious comeback from the Bulldogs saw the eventual state runner-up rally and pull out a 36-27 victory to bring the Mustangs' most promising season in years to a gut-punch end.
"We were furious after that game," said Buyan. "It just put us to the ground. But us seniors just pushed through it and we were like, 'We're gonna do it next year.'"
The Mustangs were seething after last season's conclusion, and they've been playing like they're still fuming this year.
Ennis, a member of the South Central 8-Man division, is undefeated through its first seven regular-season games. It's the best start to a Mustangs' season since the 2016 campaign when, under then head coach Chris Hess (now the head coach at Forsyth), Ennis completed a perfect 13-0 campaign.
This 2023 squad is following a similar trajectory. The Mustangs haven't just been defeating their opponents but walloping them with an average margin of victory of 40 points. Their closest battle this season was a 57-28 win over Simms.
Current Ennis head coach Mike Speck, now in his third season at the helm, said this team's nine seniors have been the driving force behind his team's success to this point.
"We've got a big group of upperclassmen and we're jacked about being undefeated," Speck said. "And the last two or three years we only graduated two or three seniors. Obviously being upperclassmen-heavy helps. And it shows."
Buyan's dynamic quarterback play has been the focal point of Ennis' high-charged offense. As a passer, he's thrown for 685 yards (with an average of over 15 yards a completion) and 11 touchdowns. As a runner, he's the Mustangs' most potent ground weapon and has piled up 770 yards and 17 scores.
Numbers like that aren't magically conjured on game days, and Buyan credits his production to a business-like mentality when preparing for each game.
"Practice makes perfect," said Buyan. "We've had some really good practices this year. Not a lot of messing around, kind of just getting straight to the point."
Buyan's ability to score via either air or ground delivery has made what he'll do on any given play tough to decipher for opposing defenses.
"I think the strongest part of his game is his play fakes," Speck said. "Defenses don't know if he's running, don't know if he's passing, don't know if it's a counter, whatever it might be.
The Mustangs wrap up the regular season with road games against Cascade (2-5) and Manhattan Christian (5-2). With a win in either of those games, Ennis — which is already guaranteed a playoff berth — would lock up the South Central title.
Speck said that his team is being wary to not overlook either of its final two regular-season opponents, especially the upstart Eagles, but with the postseason looming, he believes that this group is capable of doing something special.
"Looking into the playoffs, the goal that we set at the beginning of the year is to go 13-0," said Speck. "It's a big goal, but I do think it's a reachable goal."