Brownwood's 500-yard night overshadowed by Graham's 665-yard outburst
A fast start fizzled in the home opener for Brownwood, as the Graham Steers came storming back from a 16-point deficit to spoil homecoming, 54-49, Friday night at Gordon Wood Stadium.
“I knew this would be a big test for us because going into the Canyon game we had no idea what kind of team we had,” said Lions second-year head coach Kyle Maxfield, whose team was coming off a 60-20 victory in the season opener. “We showed some fight and sparks on both sides of the ball, but this Graham team is a different level of competition than what we played last week.”
After generating 477 yards in Week 1, the Lions (1-1) produced 500 yards of total offense against Graham, led by six touchdown passes and 401 yards through the air by quarterback Tommy Bowden in his second varsity start. The Steers (2-0), however, gashed the Brownwood defense for 665 yards of total offense as Chase Gilmore rushed for 313 yards and four touchdowns, while quarterback Tucker Horn threw for 355 yards and four more scores.
For all the offensive numbers both teams put up, the Lions' 74 rushing yards on 31 carries — an average of 2.4 yards per attempt — is where the game was decided, according to Maxfield.
“My first thought is we weren't able to run the ball and they were,” Maxfield said. “We just can't be successful without that in our offense. Graham is primarily known as a passing team but they ran the ball a lot better than we did tonight. It goes back to the old saying whoever can run the ball the best and stop the run the best is usually on top of the win column.”
Defensively, the Lions surrendered numerous big plays as four of Graham's eight touchdowns came from 30 yards out or further, including a pair over 75 yards.
“They definitely put a lot of points on the board,” Maxfield said. “I don't know how many plays they had over 70 yards, but it seemed like every touchdown they scored was a big play. We didn't tackle very well at all. Most of the long plays was poor tackling. That's the first thing that jumps out. I feel like out effort was there, we just have to get better at the fundamentals.”
The biggest bright spot for the Lions was clearly the air attack, as Bowden connected on 20 of 30 attempts and his six touchdowns rank near the top in a single game for a Brownwood quarterback. Three Lions eclipsed 100 yards receiving — Nick Salazar with eight grabs for 121 yards and two scores, A.J. McCarty with four receptions for 117 yards and three trips to the end zone, and Braden Jetton with three catches for 137 yards and a 95-yard touchdown.
“I don't know what we would have done without Tommy tonight,” Maxfield said. “He really did everything he could. Our receivers made some great plays tonight, too, and this is proof that we can be multi-dimensional. But tonight we were one-dimensional being the opposite of what we try and hang our hat on. When we have to run the ball we have to find a way to get it done.”
Leading 23-7 after one quarter, the Lions let the momentum slip away in the second period as the Steers scored four touchdowns to grab a 34-30 halftime edge.
Graham scored on the first play of the second period on a 31-yard run by Gilmore on a draw play, which gave the Lions fits all night. Brownwood followed with a three-and-out, then Horn connected with Groves on a 71-yard pass that set up a 1-yard plunge by Gilmore, as the Steers closed the gap to 23-21 at the 9:10 mark of the second period.
The Steers took their first lead, 27-23, with 6:33 remaining in the half following a second straight three-and-out by the Lions. Groves hauled in a 21-yard pass from Horn to push the Steers in front.
Brownwood fired back and regained a 30-27 advantage with 4:57 left in the half as a six-play, 68-yard trek ended with a 29-yard scoring toss from Bowden to McCarty.
The Lions forced a Graham three-and-out on the next series and got the ball back at their own 40 with 3:23 left in the half. Brownwood had a chance to build a two-score advantage heading into halftime knowing it would receive the second half kick. Instead, the Lions gave the ball back after thee plays, and Graham responded with an 84-yard touchdown run up the middle by Gilmore with 33 seconds left in the half, giving the Steers a four-point edge at the break.
“When we didn't get first downs and they had the ball down on their end right before halftime and had that long run, we know the game wasn't over but it was a big momentum switch,” Maxfield said. “When we came out for the second half we still did some things pretty good, but it was like our wheel was broke and we never could come back from it.”
The Lions took their final lead on the opening possession of the second half as Bowden and McCarty connected on a 49-yard scoring toss on third-and-4, pushing Brownwood back in front, 37-34, just 90 seconds into the third period.
Graham responded with the next two touchdowns — a 79-yard pass from Horn to Cameron Parker, who bounced off a big hit in the Lions secondary and sprinted to the end zone, and another Horn-to-Parker hook up from 12 yards out. Parker led all Steers with eight receptions for 185 yards.
Down 47-37, the Lions trimmed the deficit to four points with 21 seconds left in the third quarter on a 41-yard scoring strike from Bowden to Salazar. Again Graham had an answer, though, as a 33-yard sprint from Gilmore staked Graham to a 54-43 edge with 10:28 to go.
“That draw play that Graham kept running tonight, we just weren't being disciplined at reading our keys,” Maxfield said. “I know that's frustrating for (defensive coordinator) Coach (Sam) Gillispie and I know he'll be up all night trying to figure out how to get our defense where it needs to be.”
Brownwood tacked on its final touchdown with 90 seconds left as Gavin Jefferson scored on a 8-yard carry, but the Lions were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick. Jefferson rushed for 25 yards on 14 carries while Bowden finished with a team-best 29 yards on 10 rushes.
The Lions began the game by forcing a three-and-out and Dylan Hickey blocked a Graham punt that was recovered at the Steer 41, but Brownwood failed to score despite advancing to 5 yard line.
Graham took over on downs, but Brownwood opened the scoring on the very next play as Hunter Mares recorded the Lions' second safety in as many games, bringing down Horn in the end zone at the 8:02 mark.
Leading 2-0, the Lions stretched their advantage to 9-0 with 4:58 to go in the initial stanza as Bowden connected with Salazar for a 29-yard touchdown on fourth-and-9. Following a Mares interception on a tipped pass, the Lions were back in the end zone just 19 seconds later as Bowden hooked up with McCarty from 35 yards out to make the score 16-0 at the 4:39 mark of the first.
Graham cut the deficit to 16-7 on a 12-yard toss from Horn to Gilmore, but the Lions immediately answered with the 95-yard scoring toss from Bowden to Jetton, who sprinted the final 90 yards to the end zone after breaking a tackle.
The Lions will attempt to rebound next week at Liberty Hill (1-0), which picked up a 56-13 victory over La Vernia in its season opener Friday night. The game is the first of four straight on the road for Brownwood before the Lions return to Gordon Wood Stadium on Oct. 20 for the “Battle of 377” against Stephenville.
“It's going to be a totally different game, everybody knows that with the way Liberty Hill plays,” Maxfield said, referring to the Panthers' slot-T offense. “But have to get better at running the ball and stopping the run. I know we'll have a good plan to stop the run game, we'll have guys in the right spot, we just have to get better at tackling.”
Graham 54, Lions 49
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Graham 7 27 13 7 - 54
Brownwood 23 7 13 6 - 49
B: Safety - Hunter Mares sacked Tucker Horn in the end zone, 8:02, 1st
B: Nick Salazar 29 pass from Tommy Bowden (Zack Smith kick), 4:58, 1st
B: A.J. McCarty 35 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 4:39, 1st
G: Chase Gilmore 12 pass from Horn (David Lopez kick), 1:21, 1st
B: Braden Jetton 95 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 0:54, 1st
G: Gilmore 31 run (Lopez kick), 11:53, 2nd
G: Gilmore 1 run (Lopez kick), 9:10, 2nd
G: Adam Groves 21 pass from Horn (kick failed), 6:33, 2nd
B: McCarty 29 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 4:27, 2nd
G: Gilmore 84 run (Lopez kick), 0:33, 2nd
B: McCarty 49 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 10:30, 3rd
G: Cameron Parker 79 pass from Horn (Lopez kick), 7:00, 3rd
G: Parker 12 pass from Horn (kick failed), 2:56, 3rd
B: Salazar 41 pass from Bowden (kick failed), 0:21, 3rd
G: Gilmore 33 run (Lopez kick), 10:28, 4th
B: Gavin Jefferson 8 run (run failed), 1:30, 4th
First Downs 21 16
Total Offense 665 500
Rushes-Yards 26-313 31-74
Passing Yards 355 426
C-A-I 18-29-1 21-31-0
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Penalties 10-66 3-40
Punts 5-34.8 8-46.7
G: Chase Gilmore 26-313, Wes Martin 2-9, Tucker Horn 3-(-12). B: Tommy Bowden 10-29, Gavin Jefferson 14-25, A.J. McCarty 2-13, Cain Kittrell 4-7, Braden Jetton 1-0.
G: Horn 18-29-1-355. B: Tommy Bowden 20-30-0-401, Rylan Reagan 1-1-0-25.
G: Cameron Parker 7-185, Gilmore 5-41, Jake Lanham 3-29, Adam Groves 2-92, Ben Taylor 1-13. B: Nick Salazar 8-121, McCarty 4-117, Jetton 3-137, Ben Kallman 2-34, Hunter Leonard 2-16, Grayson Swanzy 1-1, Patrick Nash 1-0.