Two games into the season, both the Brownwood Lions and Graham Steers continue their quests for their initial victory of the 2018 campaign. One team will achieve that goal when the squads square off at Newton Field in Graham at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Lions (0-2) are coming off losses of 41-10 to Brock and 31-21 to Snyder, while the Steers (0-2) have been upended by Wichita Falls Hirschi, 43-29, and Mineral Wells, 34-21.
“It’s a process, everything’s a process,” Lions first-year head coach Sammy Burnett said of the 0-2 start, Brownwood’s first since 2013. “I know we want quick results and we want them now but I don’t want a flash pan effect and all the sudden, boom, we’re gone. Yeah, we’ve taken our lumps but let’s figure out why and then fix the why. We’re building the roots of a program and our kids are buying into it. They’re going to be rewarded but I don’t know when that time is going to come. That is not our job, our job is prepare ourselves and be ready when the Lord opens that door and then we run through it. It will happen, we’re going to gel and it’s going to come together for us and when it does it’s going to be a great thing.”
Brownwood was its own worst enemy against Snyder, with 10 penalties negating most of the positive momentum the Lions appeared to establish. Of the flags, one negated a touchdown, two erased gains inside the red zone and another foiled an opportunity to potentially extend a drive in a fourth-and-1 situation.
“We have to win in the penalty department,” Burnett said. “We can’t have the penalties like we did last week. They’re not careless penalties, they’re not effort penalties, they’re technique penalties. If a hand gets outside on a shoulder pad instead of inside, that’s the difference between an offensive holding call and not. It’s just the little bitty technique things that we have to fix.
Offensively, the Lions outgained Snyder 366-327 in total yardage — behind a mixture of the spread and T formations — but had the game’s only turnover and witnessed a number of drives stall on the brink of producing points. Defensively, the Lions allowed Snyder to convert 4 of 8 third or fourth down conversions, while failing to create a turnover for the second week in a row.
“We’re just trying to be masters at our craft and not worry about the whole scheme, worry about your part of the scheme and what you’re in charge of and what you can control, and then be passionate about what you do. Let everybody else take care of the rest,” Burnett said. “If we’re not doing something right in practice it’s not just OK to go to the next play. Strive to be a perfectionist. If you practice perfect you play better. For the longest I guess they just went through the motions. The whole aspect of winning, we’re trying to instill in our kids and they’re grasping on to it and starting to hold each other accountable. I hear them being a little bit more vocal when things aren’t going right. Instead of a coach it’s a kid, coaches can’t be the only passionate ones. We have some great leadership, but the culture is still building and brewing and eventually we’re going to get it put together in the Lord’s time.”
The Lions enter the contest averaging 15.5 points and 272.5 yards — 186 through the air and 86.5 on the ground — with one turnover.
Quarterback Tommy Bowden has completed 21 of 43 passes for 372 yards with a touchdown, while rushing for a team-high 90 yards and two more scores. Joseph Johnson has chipped in 58 yards on the ground, with 54 coming last week. Leading receivers include Braden Jetton (6-73), A.J. McCarty (5-60), Zach Strong (4-150, TD), Ben Kallman (3-41) and Grayson Swanzy (2-51).
Defensively, Brownwood is yielding 36 points and 348 yards — 191.5 through the air and 156.5 on the ground — per game.
Leading tacklers include Hayden Tunnell (18 tackles), Santanna Espinoza (15 tackles, one for loss), Ian Moreno (14 tackles, two for loss), Clayton Bertrand (12 tackles), Hunter Leonard (11 tackles, 1 for loss), Swanzy (10 tackles), Khyren Deal (nine tackles), Rowdee Gregory (eight tackles, one for loss) and Jayln Jones (eight tackles, one for loss).
“I think we’re progressing, I really do,” Burnett said. “Our kids our hungry, they’re talking about the opportunity to win. I’m still encouraged by the fact that if we fix what we need to fix and take care of the Brownwood Lions the rest will take care of itself. I dove into that with them mentally, just understanding what’s causing us not to get in the win column. I thought we had a great practice Tuesday and we wrapped it up Wednesday. We just need to take advantage of opportunities, get the right breaks and don’t step on our own feet with penalties and I think we’ll be fine.”
Graham is the District 3-4A Division II favorite, according to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football, despite returning just 10 of 37 lettermen — including three offensive and two defensive starters — from last year’s 14-1 state semifinalist squad.
The Steers are averaging 25 points and 356.5 yards — 199 rushing and 157.5 passing — per game.
Chase Gilmore leads the ground game with 342 yards and five touchdowns, while quarterback Hunter Lanham has completed 27 of 72 passes for 315 yards with a pair of touchdowns and six interceptions. Daniel Gilbertson’s 16 receptions for 223 yards and a touchdown are a team-best, while Marcus Clark has nabbed seven catches for 54 yards with a trip to the end zone.
“Chase Gilmore, he’s a good athlete, good football player and does a great job when he’s on the field,” Burnett said. “He goes extremely hard and is extremely physical. Their sophomore quarterback Hunter Lanham, he’s a taller kid that throws the ball real well. He does a great job of picking defenses apart. Their go-to receiver is Daniel Gilbertson and when they need a big play they’re going to go to him. He does a great job with his hands, he’s good with body control, catches the football well and runs great routes.
“They have a great passing game and they’ll throw the ball more than they’ll run the ball. We spent a lot of time this week on the passing game, especially in the back end because we’ve struggled in that area the last couple of games. They have a great scheme, run a lot of mesh concepts, shallow drags and crosses and digs where you have to incorporate your linebackers more. They do a great job in finding windows in zones and sitting down, and creating leverage on defenders. What’s nice is our kids give the defense a pretty good look because that’s the same thing we teach on the offensive side for us.
“Defensively we still need to stop the run, which we’ve done a good job of. We have to find a way to get off the field on third downs when we have them behind the chains and make some stops. We’ve had a lot of fourth and shorts and got off the field a couple of times. We need to create some turnovers and be explosive on the defensive side, go get an interception, create a fumble, give the opportunity for our offense to be on the field one more time than theirs.”
The Graham defense, which is giving up 38.5 points per game on average, is anchored by defensive tackles Klayton Read (22 tackles, 4 for loss) and Jesus Renteria (9 tackles), along with end Will Hays (21 tackles), safeties J.J. Lee (21 tackles) and Brandon Palacios (18 tackles) and linebackers Corey Ballew (13 tackles) and Salvador Mendez (12 tackles).
“On the defensive side Graham is led by Renteria and Read, both big physical kids up front that really penetrate and cause a lot of havoc for offensive lines,” Burnett said. “They run a 4-2-5 and play cover four behind it so they like to keep everything underneath them.
“Offensively we have to create the ability to run the football. I think we’re getting better at that. Then we have to be able to throw the quick game screens, we’re getting back to some of that. We’re going to throw the screens a little bit more and get our guys in space and see if they can’t make a move and make some plays. We need to be able to execute our passing game and not get behind the sticks.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, the game is considered a toss up.