With their bye coming next week, and the District 8-3A opener following on Oct. 12, Friday’s homecoming contest could mark the turning point in the Brownwood Lions’ season. For Lions’ fourth-year head coach Bob Shipley, Brownwood’s performance against the Sweetwater Mustangs at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Gordon Wood Stadium could dictate the rest of the 2012 campaign.
“This is a defining game for our team in my opinion,” Shipley said. “We are not competing as a team as well as we need to be, and it’s put up or shut up time for some. We’ve tried to get our kids to understand all that goes into being a Brownwood Lion because we haven’t all been living up to the expectations we have for our program.”
The Lions are off to a 1-3 start with losses to Fort Worth All Saints, Graham and last week’s 38-14 home defeat at the hands of Class 3A No. 2 Abilene Wylie. Brownwood’s lone victory this season was a 49-14 road win over Snyder, which picked up its first win of the season last week against Lubbock Estacado.
Sweetwater, meanwhile, under the direction of first-year head coach Shane Mobley, has split its first two games of the season with victories over Class 2As Eastland (23-13) and Breckenridge (33-14) and losses to Andrews (20-16) and 2A Wall (43-20).
During the Shipley era, the Mustangs have not provided much resistance to the Lions. But Brownwood is taking no team lightly this season.
“They seem to have some kids out for football who weren’t playing in the past and they’re well coached for sure,” Shipley said. “They have good schemes and they play hard.”
The Mustangs are averaging 23 points and 343 yards per outing with a balanced offense that features 172 yards rushing and 171 yards passing per game.
Quarterback Kaegan Jeffrey has completed 37 of 69 passes for 500 yards with four touchdowns, while Sean Morrow is 10 of 17 for 169 yards. Bray Amos leads Sweetwater with 14 catches for 188 yards with two touchdowns, Willie Norman has grabbed 11 receptions for 178 yards with a touchdown and Kaleb Hoover has grabbed seven balls for 119 yards. On the ground, Marquis Jenkins leads the Mustangs with 274 yards on 32 carries, Ryan Linebaugh has rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns on 25 rushes and Jeffrey has chipped in 94 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.
“Their quarterback is doing a great job,” Shipley said. “They throw and catch really well and their receivers run really good routes. Their scheme puts defenses in a bind.”
Sweetwater will face a Brownwood defense that is yielding 28 points and 329 yards — 177 rushing and 152 rushing — per game, though Shipley was pleased with aspects of last week’s performance against Wylie.
“I thought our defensive front played really well for the most part,” Shipley said. “If you take away the 60- and 20-yard runs that (Garrett) Martin had last week, he only had 40 something yards. That’s something to build on, but I’m disappointed that some of our kids didn’t rise up to the challenge.”
Dylan Lewis leads the Lions with 39 tackles followed by Jace Newman with 38 and four sacks, Mack Monsen with 37 and four for loss, Henry Rivas with 36, Kaimon Ontiveros with 25 and an interception and Dylan Martin with 21.
“I think injuries have hurt the defense but they’re playing hard,” Shipley said. “Our secondary has to improve and not give up big plays. The third and fourth down conversions Wylie had were back breakers.”
Brownwood’s offense, meanwhile, continues to be a work in progress as the Lions are producing just 19 points and 256 yards — 178 passing and 78 rushing — per contest.
Quarterback Chris Keesee has connected on 65 of 96 passes for 705 yards with seven touchdowns and five interceptions, while the Lions’ receiving corps has been led by Cooper Howey (26-318, 5 TDs), Eddie Duque (12-150, 2 TDs) and Matt McCrane (10-113). On the ground, Braxton Kilgo has compiled 215 yards and three touchdowns on 63 carries, Daylon Johnson has chipped in 97 yards and a touchdown on 27 rushes and Martin contributed five carries for 27 yards last week.
“We’re behind where we should be at this point,” Shipley said of the offense. “We’re not consistent enough running or passing the ball.”
Sweetwater’s defense heads into the game allowing 22 points and 274 yards — 161 passing and 113 rushing — per game. Prior to last week’s 43-20 loss at Wall, the Mustangs had not allowed more than 20 points in a game.
“Sweetwater is very active and plays really hard,” Shipley said. “I think they have more speed on the field than they’ve had the past couple of years. Their linebackers run well and play sideline to sideline so we’ll have to be at the top of our game.”
On the health front, aside from the season-ending injuries to Colten Guidry and Clint Taylor, no other Lions are expected to miss the homecoming contest.
As for what it will take for the Lions to emerge with their second victory of the season Friday night, Shipley pointed to the defense being able to get off the field and put the ball back into the hands of the offense.
“We have to make some stops in critical situations,” Shipley said. “We have to hold on third and fourth down conversions a lot better than we’ve been doing. We need to rise up to the challenge.”