The Brownwood Lions finally notched their first victory of the season last week at Snyder, but standing in the way of head coach Bob Shipley’s squad and its first win streak of the 2012 campaign are the No. 3 Abilene Wylie Bulldogs.
Former district combatants Brownwood (1-2) and Wylie (3-0) will renew their rivalry at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Gordon Wood Stadium.
The Bulldogs have cruised to an undefeated start — chalking up victories of 31-14 over Argyle, 42-0 over Bridgeport and 31-7 over Graham — and Shipley would not be surprised to see Wylie playing well into December.
“I would put this Wylie team up there with the 2009 team that played for a state championship,” Shipley said. “They’re that good in my opinion.”
While the Bulldogs have been hitting on all cylinders since the opening kick of the season, the Lions finally found their offense last week. After producing just seven points in losses to Fort Worth All Saints and Graham, the Lions exploded for seven touchdowns in a 49-14 victory at Snyder.
“It’s certainly a lot more fun going out to practice,” Shipley said of the Lions’ mindset since collecting their first victory. “I think it took some pressure off of them for sure. Win or lose the Snyder game though, Wylie is always a week the kids get up for.”
Brownwood scored on all four first-half possessions last week and the first six overall en route to a 411-yard performance that included 285 yards through the air. Quarterback Chris Keesee threw five touchdowns, including four to Cooper Howey, who caught 12 passes for 182 yards. Braxton Kilgo chipped in a pair of touchdowns on the ground and finished with 56 yards as the Lions more than doubled their season rushing output.
“I wouldn’t exactly say we set the world on fire running the ball, but we are getting better,” Shipley said. “I’m excited about the success we had passing but it was against a Snyder team that’s down to be bluntly honest. It would be unrealistic to think that Snyder’s defense is as good as Wylie’s, so we try to build off the positive but be realistic, too.”
Wylie’s defense is surrendering just seven points per game on average, along with 127 yards of total offense — 70 passing and 57 rushing — with eight turnovers forced.
“It all starts with three really good defensive linemen,” Shipley said of Wylie’s defensive dominance. “They don’t have to blitz much because those guys have been getting pressure on the quarterbacks. The remaining eight guys play downfield so there are always a lot of people around the ball.”
The Lions answer with an offense that is generating 21 points and 289 yards — 222 passing and 67 rushing — per contest, with six turnovers.
Keesee is 57 of 82 for 658 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions, while Howey has grabbed 24 receptions for 312 yards with four touchdowns. Matt McCrane has chipped in 10 catches for 113 yards, Eddie Duque has grabbed seven receptions for 108 yards and two scores and Kaimon Ontiveros has caught six passes for 55 yards.
On the ground, Kilgo has picked up 153 yards and scored three touchdowns, while Daylon Johnson has contributed 65 yards.
Defensively, the Lions are giving up 24 points and 308 yards — 161 passing and 147 rushing — with six turnovers forced, including five last week.
Dylan Lewis leads Brownwood with 30 tackles followed by Jace Newman with 28, Mack Monsen with 24, Henry Rivas and Ontiveros with 21 apiece and Dylan Martin with 15.
The Bulldog offense is producing 35 points and 397 total yards — 225 rushing and 172 passing — per game thus far, led by the play of running back Garrett Martin.
“Wylie’s running back will be as good as we see this year,” Shipley said. “The first defender rarely makes the tackle. In three games I’ve only seen the first guy tackle him once. So not only do we have to get off of blocks better, we have to be great tacklers. If you close your eyes and lunge at him, you’ll tackle nothing but air.”
Martin has rushed for 419 yards and three touchdowns while also catching a team-high 15 passes for 102 yards with another score. Taylor Grant has completed 41 of 66 passes for 515 yards with seven touchdowns, while rushing for two more. Hunter Calhoun has added 118 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Shante Brown has caught six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Paul Goodrich has also grabbed five receptions for 110 yards with two trips to the end zone.
“Garrett Martin is a great back that runs behind an outstanding line,” Shipley said. “Add to the fact that they’re very effective throwing the ball and they present a lot of problems for defenses.”
On the injury front, tight end Clint Taylor joined linebacker Colten Guidry as the second Brownwood player lost for the season due to injury. Other than those two, however, Shipley anticipates the rest of the Lions to be ready for action.
“We have nagging injuries but we’ll be okay,” Shipley said. “Unfortunately we’ve lost Taylor and Guidry for the season. Losing two starters is tough.”
What is required for the Lions to pull off the upset and even their record at 2-2, in theory, is simple, but will require an effort no team has managed to put forth against Wylie yet this season.
“Obviously we need to win the turnover battle and try to contain Martin,” Shipley said. “No one has yet and they haven’t lost yet. We also have to find a way to move the ball against their defense and mistakes have to be at a minimum.”