Making their ninth consecutive postseason appearance, the Brownwood Lions are targeting their second Class 4A Division I Region I bi-district championship in as many seasons under head coach Kyle Maxfield as the Wichita Falls Hirschi Huskies await in the opening round.
Kickoff between the District 3 third seed Lions (6-4) and District 4 runner-up Huskies (8-2) is slated for 6:30 p.m. at Abilene Christian University’s new Wildcat Stadium.
The Lions carry a season-best three-game win streak into the playoffs and, as expected, have an extra pep in their step as postseason play arrives.
“We’ve had a great week of practice,” Maxfield said. “As a football coach, it’s your favorite time of the year. All the hard work from the summer and the offseason, starting last January, it all leads up to this. It’s great that our kids get to experience the playoffs, the atmosphere and the new stadium.”
The Brownwood-Hirschi game will be the first high school contest to take place at the stadium, and eliminating the Huskies will be a daunting task. The only losses for the Huskies this season are to undefeated Graham, 42-35, in Week 3, and unbeaten Argyle, 37-19, in Week 10.
“It’s going to be a challenge, we know that,” Maxfield said. “But once you get into the tournament, to be the best you have to beat the best. It’d be nice to face Hirschi in the third or fourth round, but we have them in the first round so we have to ante up. Hirschi has always been athletic, but Coach (Danny) Youngs has done a great job doing more with their talent than they have in the past.”
The headline stealer for Hirschi throughout the season has been junior running back Daimarqua Foster, who has compiled 2,483 rushing yards and 33 touchdowns on 179 carries – an average of 14 yards per carry and 248 yards per game.
Over a four-game stretch against Breckenridge, Sanger, Decatur, Burkburnett, the Hirschi running back gained 1,570 yards. Foster rushed for at least 300 yards in each outing, including 580 yards in the 69-36 victory over Decatur.
Since picking up 91 yards in the season opener, Foster has rushed for no fewer than 118 yards in a game. He also has 11 catches for 116 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s the real deal, as advertised,” Maxfield said. “If you give him a seem he’s going to take it the distance. I really don’t know that you can stop him, but you do have to contain him a little to have a chance to beat them.”
Hirshi is far from a one-man show, however, as the Huskies average 48 points and 473 yards per game — 309 rushing and 164 passing.
Quarterback Mart’ez Vrana has completed 98 of 172 passes for 1,651 yards with 18 touchdowns and only two interceptions, while leading receivers include Javen Banks (31-647, 8 TDs), Xavier Wilson (30-609, 3 TDs), Isaiah Esquibel (13-133, TD) and Tian Harrell (12-115, TD).
“They have some big, tall receivers,” Maxfield said. “I don’t know if they’re as talented as Stephenville, but they can run. About 70 percent of their passing game is fade routes. They have the length to go up and get the ball, so a really big emphasis this week has been stopping the fades.”
Brownwood counters with a defense that allows 29 points and 361 yards — 183 passing and 178 rushing — per outing with 16 takeaways, including three last week in a 47-25 win over Snyder. During the Lions’ three-game win streak, Brownwood is yielding just 16 points and 209 yards per game.
Leading tacklers for the Lions include safety Patrick Nash (64.5 tackles, 7 TFL, 1 sack), end Hayden Tunnell (50 tackles, 5 sacks, 7 TFL), cornerback Kirk Vickers (50 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR, 1 INT), cornerback Marcus Mosley (47 tackles, 1 for loss 2 INTs), end Hunter Leonard (46.5 tackles, 6 sacks, 8 TFL, safety), linebacker Hunter Mares (45 tackles, 1 INT, 4 sacks, 6 TFL, 1 FR, safety), linebacker Dylan Hickey (42.5 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR), linebacker Hayden Donahoo (38 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 FRs), tackle Theo Bryant (35 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks, 2 FRs), tackle Santanna Espinoza (34.5 tackles, 6 TFL, 2 sacks, FR), linebacker Ian Moreno (26.5 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack) and safety Tristin Revada (26 tackles, 2 INTs, FR).
On the flip side of the ball, the Lions are producing 39 points and 394 yards — 220 through the air and 174 on the ground — with a mere five turnovers, an average of one every other game.
“We’ve really been defying the odds on that,” Maxfield said. “We had one on a Hail Mary, one on a kickoff and one on a punt. We’ve been preaching to our kids about winning the turnover battle and that’ll be big again Friday night.”
Quarterback Tommy Bowden has thrown just one pick to go along with 25 touchdown passes and 2,034 yards, completing 129 of 195 attempts in the process. He’s also second on the team with 439 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Gavin Jefferson leads the rushing attack with 835 yards and 10 touchdowns, and is coming off a 134-yard, three-touchdown effort, while Cain Kittrell has chipped in 344 yards and five scores.
Primary receiving threats for the Lions include A.J. McCarty (38-747, 9 TDs), Nick Salazar (35- 508, 6 TDs) and Braden Jetton (30-539, 7 TDs).
Clearing the way up front has been a combination of Colby Coppic, Blaize Infinger, Liam McCraw, Rylan Reagan, Carlos Benites and Wyatt Jacobs.
The Hirschi defense is giving up just 19 points per game with three shutouts. Aside from Argyle, Graham and Decatur, no team has scored more than 21 in a game against the Huskies.
Middle linebacker Isaiah White and defensive tackle Lloyd Murray Jr. (6-foot-2, 310 pounds lead the charge of the Huskies. White has tallied 119 tackles, including 16 for loss, with 10 sacks, while Murray has notched 28 tackles, with four for loss, and a pair of sacks. Other standouts include free safety Nate Downing (83 tackles, 2 INTs), linebacker Fred Fleeks (76 tackles, four for loss), end Ezekiel Holmes (62 tackles, 17 for loss, 2 sacks) and cornerback Gerrick McKinney (54 tackles, one for loss).
“They run a 4-2-5 and mix up coverages, they run some man and some zone,” Maxfield said. “White is a lot like Leshun Burns from Snyder, maybe a step faster, but he’s always around the ball. Murray is a big recruit, he’s just a junior, but he has the size and quickness to disrupt plays. We have to be careful focusing too much attention on him because they have two defensive ends and the another tackle that move very well, too. The ends are very athletic and lean, not really big and physical, but they get off blocks and jump around. Just when you think you have them where you want them they’re gone.
“One of the big things in a playoff game is you think you know what you’re going to see, what you’ve practiced against, but sometimes it’s different and you have to adjust on the fly. We’ll have to see how they’re going to play us an adjust accordingly.”
The winner will face Lubbock Estacado (10-1) next week, which knocked off Clint Mountain View, xx-xx, Thursday night in bi-district action.
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 7-point underdog.