Brownwood finishes strong at Jim Ned event, but sluggish start prevents advancement

TUSCOLA — The Brownwood Lions dominated their final two pool games at the Jim Ned 7-on-7 state qualifier Friday, but a sluggish start kept the squad from advancing to the qualifying round.

With four of five state qualifiers behind them, the Lions have one final chance to extend their string of consecutive 7-on-7 state tournament appearances to 18 as they host a last chance qualifier on June 23.

“7-on-7 is what it is, but we'd like to see the streak continue,” said Lions head coach Kyle Maxfield, who observed Friday's action. “You hate for it to come down to the last tournament, but throughout the years it's come down to that for Brownwood several times. Our kids are playing with confidence, we just have to up the ante and play our game.”

The Lions blanked District 3-4A Division I rival Snyder, 46-0, and avenged an earlier five-overtime loss to Eastland at the Brock qualifier with a 48-13 triumph. But an opening 19-13 loss to Albany, in which the Lions failed to score on their first five possessions, proved to be their undoing.

“If you look at our compilation of games, we're used to the system now and, to me, we're playing 10 times better than we ever did last summer,” Maxfield said. “And we still had a chance on the last play of the first game, we just didn't score any points in the first half.”

In the four state qualifying tournaments thus far, the Lions have won their pool twice — at Gatesville and Snyder — and lost in the semifinal round, while going winless in two pool games at the Brock event and posting a 2-1 record Friday at Jim Ned.

“We just haven't put a whole day together,” Maxfield said. “We've had one bad game every tournament.”

Offensively, quarterback Tommy Bowden completed 48 of 69 pass attempts with nine touchdowns and a pair of interceptions over the three games at Jim Ned, while Clayton Bertrand connected on 43 of 58 tosses with six scores and one pick.

Nick Salazar and Hunter Leonard led the receiving corps with 24 catches each, as Salazar hauled in eight touchdown catches and Leonard reached the end zone four times. Tristin Revada chipped in a dozen receptions and four touchdowns followed by Cain Kitrrell with 11 grabs, Braden Jetton with eight and a score, Gavin Jefferson and A.J. McCarty with four apiece and Ben Kallman with four catches and two trips to the end zone.

On the defensive end, Hunter Mares intercepted three passes — all against Eastland — while Revada recorded a pick six against Snyder and Kirk Vickers pulled down an interception against Albany.

In the opener against Albany, the Lions trailed 13-0 at halftime — thanks to two stalled drives and a pair of interceptions — and 19-0 in the second half before finally lighting up the scoreboard. Brownwood almost came all the way back as the Lions were inside the 10 when time expired, having thrown a pair of incompletions in the end zone — including a drop — on their final two snaps.

Brownwood closed the gap to 19-6 on a scoring toss from Bowden to Revada, then the Lions defense held Albany on a fourth-and-goal play. Four plays later, Bowden and Revada hooked up again to close the gap to 19-13.

The Lions shut down Albany's offense once more and got the ball back 45 yards from the end zone with 1:20 left, but couldn't complete the comeback.

Whatever ailed the Lions in the opener was resolved in the second contest, as Brownwood pummeled Snyder. Brownwood raced out to a 26-0 halftime lead, scoring on all four first-half possessions. The Lions also scored on their first two drives of the second half — as well as one of Snyder's.

Bowden completed 16 of 28 passes with four touchdowns while Bertrand connected on 9 of 14 attempts with two scoring tosses. Salazar hauled in 10 receptions with three touchdowns, Leonard added six grabs, Revada caught three passes with two trips to the end zone, Kallman finished with two catches and one score and Kittrell, Jefferson, Jetton and McCarty added one reception apiece.

The rematch of a 37-31 loss to Eastland began in the same fashion as Brownwood's win over Snyder. The Lions put the first 20 points on the board before Eastland responded. Up by 13 points at halftime, Brownwood tacked on two more touchdowns to establish a 34-7 cushion early in the second half.

Bertrand connected on 22 of 24 passes with four touchdowns while Bowden was 17 of 21 with three scoring tosses and one interception. Leonard pulled down 14 receptions and scored twice while Salazar finished with 13 grabs and four trips to the end zone. Jetton added four catches and scored once, McCarty and Kallman both caught two passes and Revada tallied one reception.

“We knew it was probably going to come down to the head to head against Albany and that we weren't coming out of our pool, but I'll give our kids credit for still playing hard,” Maxfield said. “When we played Albany they were still fresh, but the numbers caught up with them later and Snyder almost beat them that last game. The numbers game is big in 7-on-7 and we really need to use that to our advantage next week.”

The Brownwood 7-on-7 pools will be revealed early next week.