Brownwood looks to remain in the hunt for the District 3-4A Division I championship, while handing the Stephenville Yellow Jackets a third consecutive loss in the “Battle of 377,” as the Lions serve as hosts at 7:30 p.m. at Gordon Stadium — just the second home game this season and first since Sept. 8.
The Lions (3-3, 0-1) are coming off a heartbreaking 45-38 triple overtime loss to Abilene Wylie in their league opener, while Stephenville (4-2, 0-0) had its district bye last week and will begin league action this week.
A Brownwood win, coupled with a Stephenville victory over Wylie when the two teams meet in the regular season finale, would give the Lions a share of their first district title since 2010 — assuming no upsets occur along the way. A loss Friday night, and the Lions will likely wind up as the third seed for the playoffs if they take care of business against Snyder and Big Spring.
For Lions second-year head coach Kyle Maxfield, however, the focus is solely on a much-improved Stephenville squad from a season ago.
“It’s been a good week of practice, and we know when we’re playing Stephenville we have to be focused in, honed in, because Stephenville is a lot better this year,” Maxfield said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us. Last year we went to Stephenville and they were a little down and having rough year. They have a lot more confidence coming into this game than what we saw last year.”
After starting off with four straight victories, the Yellow Jackets are coming off back-to-back losses to Graham (30-14) and Lubbock Monterey (20-17). Stephenville wasn’t at full strength for the duration of either game, however, and coming off a bye, Maxfield expects the Yellow Jackets to be hitting on all cylinders.
“We went and watched them against Lubbock Monterey on our bye week and they ended up losing that game 20-17, but they were still playing pretty good for the most part,” Maxfield said.
Where the Yellow Jackets have made the greatest strides from last season to this year, according to Maxfield, is on the defensive side of the ball.
“The first thing that stands out is how well they’re playing defense,” Maxfield said, as the Yellow Jackets are allowing 21 points per game on average. “They’ve changed their scheme up a little, they have a new defensive coordinator this year, and you can tell. They really swarm to the ball and they’re the fastest defense we’ve played from sideline to sideline. Their linebackers are really active and their safeties are really very aggressive.”
Stephenville is led defensively by Gage Graham (61 tackles, 2 for loss), Blu Caylor (52 tackles, 2 for loss, 3 sacks), Chase Carrillo (46 tackles, 1 for loss), Zane Walker (38 tackles, 2 for loss, 3 sacks), Pacen Parker (37 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 6 sacks), and Cole Pettit (20 tackles, 4 INTs).
The Lions counter with an offense that is producing 40 points and 431 yards — 255 passing and 206 rushing — with just three turnovers all season.
Quarterback Tommy Bowden has completed 81 of 134 passes for 1,297 yards with 14 touchdowns and one interception — that coming on a Hail Mary at the end of the first half last week — while rushing for 353 yards and five scores.
Other threats out of the backfield include Gavin Jefferson (557 yards, 5 TDs) and Cain Kittrell (235 yards, 3 TDs), while leading receivers include A.J. McCarty (25-399, 5 TDs), Nick Salazar (22-415, 5 TDs), Braden Jetton (14-248, 2 TDs), Ben Kallman (6-85) and Hunter Leonard (6-67, TD).
“It’s going to be a big test to move the ball on them,” Maxfield said. “I don’t think you can hang your hat on one way to move the ball, you have to hit them in a lot of different areas and try and keep them off balance as much as you can.”
On the flip side of the ball, Stephenville enters the contest averaging 33 points and 393 yards — 205 rushing and 188 passing — per outing.
Quarterback Easton Jones has returned to the lineup after missing the first few games and has completed 54 of 101 passes for 735 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. But the most dangerous weapon for the Yellow Jackets, thus far, has been running back Krece Nowak with 861 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, along with 15 catches for 201 yards and three trips to the end zone.
“Their running back is one of the fastest kids we’ve played,” Maxfield said. “If he gets loose, he can put those feet down pretty fast. Their quarterback has been through a lot the past six months, but he’s slinging the ball like he did last year. They also have talented receivers, big and tall.”
Primary receiving threats for the Yellow Jackets include Clay Krause (23-323, 3 TDs), Blake Aragon (18-244, 2 TDs), Kyle Lindsey (10-152, 2 TDs) and Graham (9-144).
Brownwood’s defense is yielding 35 points and 423 yards — 250 rushing and 173 passing — on average, but has forced 11 turnovers.
Leading the way defensively are Patrick Nash (48 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack), Kirk Vickers (34 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT), Hunter Mares (33 tackles, 1 INT, 3 sacks, 3 TFL, 1 FR, safety), Marcus Mosley (29.5 tackles, 1 INT), Dylan Hickey (28.5 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 FR), Leonard (26 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 TFL, safety), Hayden Tunnell (25 tackles, 4 sacks), Theo Bryant (24.5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 2 FRs), Hayden Donahoo (24.5 tackles, 2 FRs), Isaiah Marquez (20.5 tackles) and Tristin Revada (18 tackles, INT).
On the health front, the Lions should also have all their players at their disposal Friday night.
“We had a couple of kids with the flu earlier this week, but other than that we’re in good shape right now,” Maxfield said.
Last season, Brownwood picked up a 27-13 win at Stephenville, the second in a row for the Lions in the series.
According to Harris Rating Weekly, this game is considered a toss up.