The Brownwood Lions are coming off a heartbreaking 45-38 triple overtime loss to the Abilene Wylie Bulldogs in last week’s District 3-4A Division I opener. With Stephenville set to invade Gordon Wood Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday, another overtime classic quickly comes to mind.
The year was 1996, Gordon Wood Stadium was the site and current Brownwood running backs coach Bryan Clark was a junior receiver/cornerback for the Lions.
“It was as crazy as it sounds,” Clark said, referencing the 42-39 double-overtime thriller won by the Lions.
“That was pretty early in the overtime process, it may have been the first year,” Clark said. “It was the first overtime I had been a part of and to do it at your place, in front of your fans, against your rival, to score and walk off like we did, dog pile in the end zone, that’s a Top 10 memory right there.”
After Stephenville converted a field goal on its first possession of the second overtime, Brownwood answered with a touchdown by Michael Johnson — and pandemonium ensued.
“We had held them to a field goal so once we scored a touchdown it was over,” Clark said. “I think Audie Mitchell had 40 carries for over 300 yards and we faked it to Audie and gave it to Michael and he ran it in. We just all ran and dogpiled in the end zone — coaches, kids, fans. It was pretty exciting.”
The Lions finished 10-2 in 1996 under head coach W.T. Stapler, a year after posting a 1-8-1 record.
“We’d come off a couple of rough years, they beat the snot out of us the year before,” Clark said of a 50-9 road loss in 1995. “They came over to our place and it was a pretty electric atmosphere. From my understanding I think some of the bleachers were broken because of the people jumping up and down on them.
“That was a resurgence for us with the changing of the guard and the coaches with Coach Stapler coming over, trying to get everybody to buy into the new culture. That’s why, as far as I’m concerned, it was Brownwood’s greatest win in the rivalry. But I hate to speak for everybody in the whole rivalry, that’s a long time span.”
In Clark’s senior season of 1997 under first-year head coach Steve Freeman, the Yellow Jackets got revenge on the Lions with a 31-21 victory at Tarleton Memorial Stadium.
“We went over to their place and they beat us by 10,” Clark said. “It was a back and forth game. We’d score and cut it to 3 but couldn’t ever get a stop. They were really talented offensively. It was a good game, exciting game, but offensively they were a little better than we were. That was a frustrating loss. Your senior year you want to go out beating those guys.”
Stephenville went on to win its third state championship in 1998, with only one blemish on its schedule — a 40-35 home loss to Brownwood.
“That was a pretty big moment for Brownwood in the rivalry as well,” said Clark.
Clark jumped back into the fire of the Battle of 377 in 2011 when we came home to Brownwood and joined the football coaching staff. Since his arrival, the Lions are 2-3 against the Yellow Jackets.
“For me, there’s still that extra movitation to beat those guys because there’s a genuine dislike, not that they’re bad people, but that’s part of what makes it fun,” Clark said. “I get a little extra pep in my step this week. As a coach you still get excited, but it’s more like a chess match at this stage in life. You want to put your players in a position to be successful. It’s a little less emotional as a coach where as a player you play on a lot of adrenaline and emotion.”
Having coached in other rivalries, such as Ennis-Waxahachie and Ennis-Corsicana, during his career, Clark still feels the Battle of 377 is among the state’s elite.
“It certainly has to be one of the top rivalries in the state, but the state is so big, there’s different areas that have different rivalries that folks around here have probably never heard,” Clark said. “That’s what it was like when I was in Ennis. They had huge rivalries that’d I’d never heard of because I wasn’t around the Metroplex.
“But I would put Brownwood-Stephenville up against any rivalry in the state because the two communities are so similar. They care about their school and their kids and care a lot about football. Not only is it a rivalry for the kids, it’s a rivalry for the fans. It’s more than just being close and not liking each other, it’s two programs that have had a ton of success and are still two programs doing well, that have built their programs their right way. I think it’s as good as any rivalry you’ll find across the state.”