The Brownwood Lions have advanced at least three rounds deep in the playoffs in each of head coach Bob Shipley’s seasons at the helm, but if the Lions — who are making their fourth consecutive postseason appearance — are going to equal that feat again in 2012, they must first get past their toughest opening-round opponent to date.
A season ago, the Lions put an end to the Glen Rose Tigers’ postseason campaign with a 28-14 victory in the Division II-3A Region I area round.
Fast forward 12 months, minus one round of the playoffs, and the District 8-3A runner-up Lions (6-4) and 7-3A runner-up Tigers (9-1) are crossing paths again in Division II-3A Region I bi-district action — right back at Stephenville’s Tarleton Memorial Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Brownwood’s roster is vastly different compared to the team that stepped on the field against Glen Rose a year ago, while the Tigers return the majority of their lineup — which has played its best ball of the season as the schedule has progressed.
“They basically have their entire team back and they’re playing at a higher level than last year,” Shipley said. “They’re much better in every facet of the game. They’ve expanded their offense and are averaging over 45 points per game.”
The Lions have also made major strides down the stretch as Brownwood has reeled off victories in five of the last six games after a 1-3 start. But Shipley realizes a victory Friday night will require the best effort the Lions have put forth to date.
“We will have to play our best ball of the season, which we are very capable of doing,” Shipley said. “Glen Rose, I think, is an overall better team than Gatesville so we can’t make many mistakes and expect to win. I think we know where we are as a team. We’re capable of beating most of our opponents but we can’t make any mistakes if we want to have a chance to win. We haven’t played a complete ball game yet against a good spread team. It will take that for us to win Friday.”
Brownwood rebounded from its 35-14 loss to Gatesville in the District 8-3A championship game with a 41-13 home victory over Llano last week — a game in which the Lions yielded just 139 yards of total offense.
Shutting down a Glen Rose offense that averages 46 points and 463 yards —256 passing and 207 rushing — per game will be a considerably greater challenge.
“Their offense is very multiple,” Shipley said. “Their running back will be the best overall back we’ve faced all year. They get him the ball any way they can. They also run a lot of misdirection plays, so we’ll have to focus on our keys.”
Glen Rose tailback Cody Burtscher has compiled 1,324 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns — reaching at least 100 yards in eight of 10 games — while catching 37 passes for 671 yards with six more trips to the end zone.
Tiger quarterback Colton Bretton has connected on 138 of 228 attempts for 2,552 yards with 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions and has also chipped in 131 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground.
Justin Weatherly, with 55 receptions for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns, is the primary receiving threat for the Tigers, while Austin Gibson (19-284, 3 TDs) and Jared Thames (13-175) have also come up with key catches.
The Lions head into the postseason surrendering 21 points and 279 yards —139 rushing and 140 passing — per game on average, with 14 turnovers forced.
Brownwood’s defense is spearheaded by Henry Rivas (114 tackles, three for loss, one sack), Mack Monsen (98 tackles, eight for loss, four sacks), Dylan Lewis (86 tackles, one for loss, two sacks), Jace Newman (81 tackles, 11 for loss, eight sacks, two fumble recoveries), Dylan Martin (76 tackles, two for loss, one fumble recovery), Kaimon Ontiveros (62 tackles, one interception) and Bryce Vickers (51 tackles, three for loss, one sack, one interception).
“Our pass defense has gotten better throughout the season, but we have to continue to get better at tackling in space,” Shipley said. “Glen Rose will challenge us often with their back swinging out of the backfield and being in the open field versus an outside linebacker or safety.”
On the flip side, the Glen Rose defense has allowed just 16 points per game on average. Aside from giving up 48 in an 18-point loss to No. 3 Stephenville, 28 in a 13-point win over Alvarado and 28 in a Week 1 seven-point decision over China Spring, the Tigers allowed no more than 13 points per game in their remaining seven outings.
Jed Bridges leads Glen Rose with 109 tackles followed by Senovio Delagarza with 89, Kevin Uehlein with 84, Thames with 64 and five sacks and Ryan Lamb with 34 tackles and four sacks. Gibson and Burtscher have picked off two passes each.
“They do a good job defensively and try to confuse you,” Shipley said. “They blitz some and fake blitz a lot trying to confuse the linemen. They roll their coverages, so we’ll have to do a good job of reading their secondary.”
The Lions march into the playoffs producing 26 points and 288 yards — 132 rushing and 156 passing — per contest, with 13 turnovers.
Quarterback Chris Keesee has completed 144 of 204 passes for 1,547 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions, while leading receivers for the Lions include Cooper Howey (48-531, 10 TDs), Jared Crouch (25-269, TD) and Matt McCrane (24-283, TD).
Behind the blocking of linemen Michael Livingston, Kevin Hobbs, Cody Skains, Caleb Wilbourn and Jaylen Bocknite, Brownwood’s rushing attack has been the recipient of 600 yards and nine touchdowns from Braxton Kilgo, 347 yards and three touchdowns from Eddie Duque and 211 yards and a touchdown from Martin.
“Our receivers have improved a lot,” Shipley said. “We’ve had some guys really step it up for us like Jared Crouch, Matt Gomez and Kyle Steele, but we need to continue to improve in every area.”
Special teams, turnovers and penalties are also areas where the game could either be won or lost for both teams, Shipley added.
“They have two really good return men who can take it the distance any time,” Shipley said. “We have to do a good job of covering kicks and keeping the ball away from their return guys when possible. Obviously, penalties and turnovers can also make the difference in a game, so we have to minimize both.”
Friday’s winner will face either Graham (9-1) or Lake Worth (5-5) in the area round of the playoffs next week.