Following their first loss of the season to the Graham Steers, the Brownwood Lions begin a four-game road trip Friday night. The schedule gets no easier with a visit to Liberty Hill at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a rematch of last year’s 30-29 overtime victory for the Panthers.
After opening the season with a 60-20 victory over Canyon, the Lions (1-1) suffered a 54-49 homecoming loss to Graham in which the Lions were gashed for 665 yards of total offense — 355 through the air and 310 on the ground.
Liberty Hill (1-0), under new head coach Jeff Walker, had its season opener last week after its Week 1 contest at La Grange was cancelled due to Hurricane Harvey, and rolled over La Vernia, 56-13, behind a 514-yard effort — including 431 rushing.
Walker was an assistant under Jerry Vance, who guided Liberty Hill to a pair of state championships during his 16-year tenure.
“Coach Walker coached in that system, grew up in that system, and the slot-T is very unique,” said Lions second-year head coach Kyle Maxfield. “It’s the same offense, and they’ve had a lot of success with it. On the roster their weights don’t match what you see on film. La Vernia looked pretty small compared to them and I’m sure they’ll be bigger than us, but what else is new. Really the only difference you can see is how they break the huddle and sprint to the line and have a little more tempo to them.
“Defensively they changed that up some. Coach Walker’s brother is the defensive coordinator and they’ve gone from more of a split to a 50 look or 3-4 look.”
Liberty Hill trailed La Vernia, 13-7, after one quarter last week but dominated the rest of the way. Elihah Davis rushed for three touchdowns from 60, 27 and 2 yards out, while Hunter Oncken added touchdown carries of 6, 1 and 2 yards. Quarterback Brenden Ketchem added a 2-yard touchdown run and completed 2 of 4 passes for 84 yards — a 20-yard scoring toss to Kyle Harrison and a 64-yard pass to Dalton Phifer, who was dragged down at the 1 yard-line.
The Lions, meanwhile, are attempting to bounce back from last week’s defensive woes, as Graham amassed 621 yards over the final three quarters to rally from a 23-7 deficit.
“Liberty Hill keeps coming at you with a lot of misdirection and offensive linemen who are just trying to breaking your will,” Maxfield said. “They don’t really play fast, but like I said earlier when they break the huddle they sprint to the line so you have to be ready because it happens fast. We’ve simulated it as best as we can with our scout team, but we know it’s going to be a little bit faster those first few plays.
“Usually their three of four passes are for big gains, so we have worked some pass hull this week but not as much as last week, but a little bit. But I think our defense is about as prepared as we can be for that type of offense.”
Defensively, the Panthers yielded just 243 yards — 99 yards rushing on 30 carries and 144 yards passing, completing 8 of 12 attempts with touchdown passes of 17 and 8 yards. Linebacker Grant Supak led Liberty Hill in tackles, while Wyatt Cheney intercepted a pass — one of two takeaways by the Panther defense.
“It’s tough to find away to exploit them,” Maxfield said of the Panther defense. “They have a linebacker that comes down hill in a hurry just like you would expect a 50 linebacker would. Up front, their nose guards are big and can move pretty well. They have two different types of defensive ends, one is thick and really athletic and the other is tall lanky kid, but they like to flip everybody. It’s a going to be a challenge for us, but maybe we can get them in a formation we like and have some success.”
The Lions generated 500 yards last week with 426 coming through the air as Tommy Bowden threw for 401 and six touchdowns. Three Lions finished with 100-plus yard receiving nights — Nick Salazar with eight grabs for 121 yards and two scores, A.J. McCarty with four catches for 117 yards and three touchdowns, and Braden Jetton with three receptions for 137 yards with a 95-yard touchdown.
But Brownwood’s 74 yards on 31 carries is what stuck out most to Maxfield, who stated following Friday’s loss, “We weren’t able to run the ball and they were. We just can’t be successful without that in our offense.”
Behind the offensive line of Wyatt Jacobs, Tyelor Chew, Blaize Infinger, Colby Coppic and Liam McCraw, the Lions come into their third game averaging 54.5 points and 488.5 yards — 309.5 passing and 179 rushing — per contest, without a turnover thus far.
Bowden has completed 28 of 44 passes for 594 yards with nine touchdowns and no picks, as leading receivers include Salazar (10-196, 4 TDs), McCarty (5-125, 3 TDs), Ben Kallman (5-69), Jetton (4-146, TD), Hunter Leonard (2-16) and Gavin Jefferson (1-66, TD) out of the backfield.
Jefferson (27-140, TD) is the leading ground gainer, while Bowden (16-92, TD), Cain Kittrell (13-59, TD) and Joseph Johnson (4-22) have been proven to be threats with the ball in their hand.
Defensively, the Lions are yielding 39 points and 458 yards — 264 passing and 194 rushing — on average, with three takeaways and a pair of safeties.
Leading tacklers include Dylan Hickey (12.5 tackles, 1 TFL 1 FR), Hunter Mares (10.5 tackles, 1 INT, 1 sack, 1 TFL, safety), Patrick Nash (10.5 tackles), Hayden Tunnell (9.5 tackles, 2 sacks), Clayton Bertrand (9.5 tackles), Hayden Donahoo (9 tackles, 1 FR), Leonard (8.5 tackles, 3 sacks, safety), Kirk Vickers (8 tackles), Ian Moreno (6.5 tackles, 1 TFL), Santanna Espinoza (6.5 tackles), Marcus Mosley (5.5 tackles) and Theo Bryant (4 tackles).
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is ranked No. 12 in Class 4A Division I, moving up two spots despite last week’s loss, while in ranked No. 17. However, Brownwood is an underdog for the first time this season, with Liberty Hill listed as the 6-point favorite.