A District 8-3A championship, at least outright, is out of the Brownwood Lions’ hands, but there is still plenty to look forward to as head coach Bob Shipley’s squad prepares for Friday’s regular season finale against the Llano Yellow Jackets at Gordon Wood Stadium.
Regardless of Friday’s outcome, Brownwood is headed to the postseason for a fourth consecutive season, and in each of the previous three years under Shipley the Lions have reached at least the third round of the playoffs.
The Lions will likely be the Division II second seed from 8-3A and appear destined to meet District 7-3A runner-up Glen Rose in the bi-district round of the playoffs, but another scenario does exist. Brownwood could still go the Division I route, but that would require Burnet missing the playoffs. For that to happen, Burnet would have to lose to Lampasas Friday night and Liberty Hill would have to knock off Gatesville, both of which would be significant upsets.
But Shipley and the Lions (5-4, 3-1) aren’t looking too far ahead, or behind, with an improved Llano (3-6, 1-3) squad anxious to play the role of spoiler.
“We can’t be thinking about last week or next week,” Shipley said. “There’s nothing more that Llano would love to do than knock us off and finish their season with a big win. I told the kids that we need to treat this like a playoff game. We’re approaching it like one and we need to respond and rise to the challenge.
“Last week was a very disappointing loss. We had overcome a lot and worked hard for the chance to play for the district championship and we didn’t get it done. We obviously want to have some momentum going into the playoffs so, as they say, we don’t want to lose that game twice. We have to be mature enough to put it behind us and realize how important it is for us to play hard Friday and be better than we were last week, and I think we will.”
Undefeated Gatesville snapped Brownwood’s four-game win streak in a 35-14 decision last week, but Shipley feels there are numerous lessons for the Lions to learn.
“We did a good job on offense and defense at times as well as having some nice kick returns,” Shipley said. “Defensively, we have to be more consistent tackling and our DBs can’t get beat deep. When bad things do happen we have to learn from it, put it behind us and get ready to play the next series. If a guy on the defensive front messes up it’s not so obvious. When a DB messes up everyone sees it. It’s a tough position to play.
“Offensively, we have to do a better job of getting off press coverage. We were really close to making some big plays but it just didn’t happen. Some of that was because they were a good football team.”
Llano turned heads in the season opener as it led defending Division II-3A state champion Wimberley in the fourth period before falling by one point, 27-26. The Yellow Jackets have continued to show steady improvement throughout the campaign under first-year head coach Craig Slaughter, who formerly roamed the sidelines at Sweetwater.
“They’re very sound on both sides of the ball and they play with a lot of intensity,” Shipley said. “There are two things that stand out to me about them — they have their kids in the right positions to get the most out of their talent and they play with passion. They’re by far the smallest school in the district, so I think they’ve done a good job with what they have.”
Llano enters the game with victories over Bangs, Bandera and Lampasas as the Yellow Jackets average 26 points and allow 33 per game. The Yellow Jackets — who are coming off a 62-34 loss at the hands of Burnet last week — are still comprised of many of the same players Brownwood has become familiar with over the last few years in quarterback Layton Rabb, tailback Rhett Brooks and receiver Matt Center.
“Offensively, they’ve very multiple and have good skill players,” Shipley said. “Their quarterback is 6-5 and is a good passer and runner. Their running back was a quarterback but he’s doing a great job running the ball. He has good speed and vision and adds another dimension to their offense that they haven’t had before. They have some weapons outside with two really good receivers.
“Defensively, they are very sound with their scheme. They base out of a 4-3 front, do a great job with their front four and have done a good job getting pressure on quarterbacks. They have good athletes in their secondary and do a good job of not giving up the big play.”
Heading into Friday’s outing, the Lions are averaging 24 points and 277 yards — 155 passing and 122 rushing — per game, with 12 turnovers.
Quarterback Chris Keesee has connected on 135 of 193 passes for 1,388 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. Cooper Howey (46-511, 9 TDs), Matt McCrane (23-276, TD) and Jared Crouch (23-235, TD) continue to be the leading receivers for the Lions, while top rushers include Braxton Kilgo (115-482, 7 TDs), Eddie Duque (42-341, 3 TDs), Dylan Martin (33-145 yards) and Daylon Johnson (39-133, 3 TDs).
Consistency and third-down conversions are areas where Shipley would like to see the Lions show the most improvement heading into the postseason.
“We need to be more consistent and we have to do a better job of converting on third down,” Shipley said. “There’s not any area that we can’t improve on. At times we looked really good running the ball, but we have to be more consistent.”
Defensively, the Lions are yielding 22 points and 294 yards — 147 rushing and 147 passing — with 14 turnovers forced.
Leading the charge for Brownwood are Henry Rivas (103 tackles, three for loss, one sack), Mack Monsen (92 tackles, seven for loss, four sacks), Jace Newman (76 tackles, 10 for loss, eight sacks, two fumble recoveries), Dylan Lewis (75 tackles, one for loss, two sacks), Martin (69 tackles, two for loss, fumble recovery), Kaimon Ontiveros (62 tackles, one interception) and Bryce Vickers (41 tackles, three for loss, one sack, one interception).
Containing another elusive quarterback in Rabb ranks among the biggest keys to the Lions’ game plan this week.
“He’s deceptively quick for a big guy,” Shipley said. “He’s very capable of tucking the ball and running and is tough to bring down. He’s not like Cole Edmiston from Gatesville, but he is still a big threat to run and pass. We also have to stop Carter Tatsch, their running back. He can take it to the house on any play.”
In terms of special teams play, the Lions picked up huge chunks of yardage last week — including returning a pair of kicks into Gatesville territory that did not result in points. Making the most of the special teams opportunities will be vital this week, and going forward.
“That was probably the most disappointing thing about last week,” Shipley said. “When we get good field position off a return we have to take advantage of that momentum. It takes the wind out of our sails when we don’t. We missed some golden opportunities last week. We work hard on special teams everyday for a reason — to get good field position. We have to make the most of those opportunities.”