Brownwood, Graham shooting for second straight victory

The Brownwood Lions couldn’t have asked for a much better start to the 2017 football campaign, and will attempt to parlay that momentum into a season-opening two-game win streak as the Graham Steers visit Gordon Wood Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday for homecoming.

The Lions are coming off a 60-20 thrashing of the Class 5A Canyon Eagles in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

“You have to be careful because it’s easy to overlook the little things that you need to work on after a win,” said second-year head coach Kyle Maxfield. “It’s real easy after a loss to pick up every little detail that you missed. Our staff and our kids know what we expect so we’re working toward getting better this week and hopefully it’ll show up Friday night.

“We had a great practice Monday, of course when you don’t have school you can work on a lot of things. Tuesday was a little sluggish, more like a Monday with school starting up. But Wednesday we hit all three phases of the game, kids were popping around and it’s always fun to practice after a big win. They’ve enjoyed themselves but at the same time we’ve done some dirty work trying to get better at everything from blocking to tackling to kicks and punts, all that good stuff.”

Graham was equally as impressive in its opening night performance as the Steers pummeled Sanger, 55-14, and led 48-7 at halftime.

The Steers finished with 577 yards of total offense — 345 passing and 232 rushing. Quarterback Tucker Horn completed 19 of 35 passes for 345 yards with four touchdowns, Adam Groves hauled in seven catches for 159 yards with scores from 79, 26 and 13 yards out, and Chase Gilmore rushed for 159 yards on 11 carries, scoring three times on carries of 11, 14 and 49 yards. Wes Martin tacked on a 47-yard touchdown run, Callen Mills grabbed three receptions for 60 yards and Ben Taylor recorded a 41-yard reception.

“They have great skill kids on both sides of the ball, that’s evident with the 7-on-7 state championship,” said Maxfield, referring to Graham’s victory at the Division II tournament in College Station in late June. “They can throw and catch, their receivers can run, they’re real simple on their run schemes up front, but they’ve got big linemen that get a big body on you. They like to chunk it around, they’re really good at it, and that’s what they hang their hat on is their passing game. At the same time, they’ve been balanced running it, so big challenge for the defense. We know they’ll be a lot better this year because they have a lot of returning starters. (Defensive coordinator) Coach (Sam) Gillispie has a few things they’ve been working on this week to help them in the back end.”

The Lions, meanwhile, limited Canyon to 251 total yards last week — 173 through the air and 78 on the ground — while recovering a pair of fumbles, including a 44-yard return for a touchdown by Dylan Hickey. Hickey (7 tackles, 1 for loss) led the Lions in tackles last week while other standouts included Patrick Nash (6.5 tackles), Hunter Leonard (6 tackles, 3 sacks), Clayton Bertrand (5.5 tackles), Hunter Mares (5 tackles, 1 for loss), Hayden Tunnell (4 tackles, 1 sack), Hayden Donahoo (4 tackles, 1 FR), Kirk Vickers (4 tackles), Ian Moreno (3 tackles, 1 for loss) and Grayson Swanzy (3 tackles, 1 for loss).

Graham’s defense gave up just 224 yards — 155 passing and 69 rushing on 37 carries — against Sanger and forced one turnover, an interception by David Colunga.

“What’s impressive about their defense, which is probably what I watch on film more than anything, is they rotate defensive fronts,” Maxfield said. “They’ve got seven guys they play along the front four and they rotate them every series. That can create problems for our offensive line because we don’t have a lot of depth there. We’re just going to have to man up and find a way to get it done.

“Preston Langley doesn’t start but he really stands out. They’ve changed their defensive philosophy and put him down as a defensive end. He’s just gotten bigger and strong so they’ve put his hand down. Probably the best player on defense is linebacker Cy Holt. He’s not really that big, just a football player that’s all over the field. We definitely have a game plan for those two, and the rest are just solid.”

The Lions counter with an offense that produced 477 yards — including 386 in the first half alone — last week against Canyon. Quarterback Tommy Bowden completed 8 of 14 passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns — two of 44 and 31 yards to Nick Salazar and one of 66 yards to Gavin Jefferson.

Jefferson also amassed 115 of Brownwood’s 284 yards on the ground with Bowden adding 63 yards and a 50-yard score, Cain Kittrell chipping in 52 yards and a touchdown and Joseph Johnson rushing for 22 yards and reaching the end zone once.

As for the Lions multi-faceted rushing attack, Maxfield said, “They all know what to do. We cut the playlist down when the third and fourth guys get in there, but I was really proud of the way they came in and kept it rolling.”

Health-wise, the Lions are dealing with a few bumps and bruises but nothing severe.

“Hunter Mares is still not 100 percent on the ankle but he’s been practicing all week,” Maxfield said. “Cain Kittrell has a sore groin but he’s been practicing. You’re never at full strength, but we’re in good shape as far as injuries go.”

Brownwood enters the game ranked by Harris Rating Weekly at No. 14 in Class 4A Division I , up six spots from last week, while Graham is No. 7 in Class 4A Division II.

According to Harris Ratings Weekly, the Lions are a 3-point favorite for the second consecutive week.