Brownwood stretches win streak to four with second bye in three-week span coming

GATESVILLE — Perhaps no game on the Brownwood Lions' schedule is more crucial than Friday night's District 5-4A Division I opener. In a five-team league with the three remaining foes ranked in the 4A Division I preseason Top 15, a single victory could be the difference in advancing to the postseason and missing the playoffs.

While the Lions did not guarantee themselves a postseason berth Friday night, they took a massive step in the right direction with a 34-14 road victory over the Gatesville Hornets.

“This was a must-win for us and I knew that before the season started,” said Lions first-year head coach Sammy Burnett, whose team will finish the season and district campaign against Stephenville, Waco La Vega and China Spring. “When I got the job and started looking at the schedule I had this penciled as a must-win. We had to do it, our kids came out and did it and now we're sitting right where we want to be.”

The victory was the fourth in a row for the Lions (4-2, 1-0), who were coming off their first bye of the season and battled bouts of inconsistency on the offensive end.

“We made some things happen offensively but we also sputtered just a little bit,” Burnett said. “I thought we could have put up 50 and we didn't. We have expectations and we didn't meet them. We had some busted assignments up front and we got behind the chains a little bit which I didn't like, but we were able to overcome it. We just had some rust and weren't executing like we were before the break.”

Brownwood finished with 379 total yards, with 234 coming on the ground and 155 through the air. Quarterback Tommy Bowden rushed for 154 yards and two scores and completed 8 of 14 passes with two more touchdowns and one interception. Reece Rodgers added 74 yards and a touchdown on the ground, while Zach Strong grabbed three receptions for 46 yards and two scores. A.J. McCarty also finished with three grabs covering 46 yards, Braden Jetton hauled in a 40-yard reception and Rodgers made a 23-yard catch and run.

“We never really got going, but we did score enough to help our defense out,” Bowden said. “The defense was playing lights out and you don't have to score very much when you have a defense like this.”

The Lions defense was stellar, particularly in shortage yardage fourth-down situations. On three occasions, with Gatesville (2-5, 0-1) in Brownwood territory, the Lions stuffed the Hornets on fourth-and-3 or shorter to seize possession and flip the momentum.

“Those were huge plays,” Burnett said. “The defense played great. Gatesville did a lot of things to us and we adjusted well and stayed assignment-sound. The defense kept us in the ball game and then helped us keep the lead. They got Gatesville off the field multiple times, and kept them out of the end zone many times.”

The Lions surrendered 270 total yards — 206 through air but only 64 on the ground on 21 carries — and forced a turnover, their 11th takeaway during the four-game win streak.

“I couldn't be more proud of our defense,” said Lions linebacker Hayden Tunnell. “We had a good game plan going in, we trusted in the coaches and they trusted in us. Everybody was doing their job, that was the main thing.”

The game turned in the Lions' favor for good on Brownwood's initial fourth-down stop.

Leading 7-6, Gatesville faced a fourth-and-2 at the Brownwood 44 with 2:13 left in the first quarter. Zach Mueller, the player Burnett said the Lions must contain earlier in the week to have a chance to win, was stopped after a 1-yard gain, and the ball went over to the Lions.

On the very next snap, Bowden scrambled and eventually found a path down the left sideline 57 yards to the end zone, and the Lions took a 13-7 lead at 2:01 of the first period and never looked back.

“I look at it as a negative when a play breaks down and we scramble for a first down because we're not executing the play that was called, but that's football and we have some great athletes who can extend plays, so I have to be pleased,” Burnett said.

The Lions held Gatesville to a three-and-out on the next possession, and Brownwood followed with a seven-play, 55-yard march to extend the advantage to 20-7. Bowden scored on a 4-yard carry with 9:50 left in the half, as a 40-yard fade from Bowden to Jetton moved the ball inside the Gatesville 5.

Clayton Bertrand then recovered a short kick for the Lions after their third touchdown, but Brownwood failed to produce points as Zack Smith's 32-yard field goal attempt was blocked with 6:33 left in the half. Smith also had his first extra point attempt blocked after Rodgers scored on a 14-yard run with 6:55 to go in the opening period.

Brownwood was still able to tack on more points before halftime as an eight-play, 75-yard trek ended with a 15-yard scoring toss from Bowden to Strong, who pulled down the reception in a crowd with 28 seconds left in the second quarter.

“Zach went up and made a great play,” Bowden said. “I under threw it but he went up and grabbed it. He's a heck of a player and I'm glad he's on our team.”

Leading 27-7 at the break, the Lions gave up the first points of the second half as well as Mueller scored on a 24-yard run for Gatesville with 11:51 left in the contest to shave Brownwood's edge to 27-14.

In the third period, however, the Hornets had chances to creep even closer on their first two possessions but Preston Preciado came up short on a fourth-and-3 at the Brownwood 24, then a pass from Seth Trotter to Tyler Lewis went for no gain on fourth-and-3 at the Lion 28.

“I tell the guys in the huddle to be a playmaker, go out there and make a play, and we have cats that go out there and make a play when it's needed,” Tunnell said.

The Lions responded immediately to Gatesville's final touchdown with an 11-yard, 75-yard drive that chewed 5:51 off the clock and ended with another scoring hook up from Bowden to Strong, this time from 25 yards out, for the final 34-14 margin.

“We worked all week on coverages and if they were playing like that I was supposed to make the route skinny, and it was a beautiful throw by Tommy,” Strong said.

The game began ominously for the Lions, who went three-and-out on the opening possession. Then, a poor snap to Bowden in punt formation on fourth-down forced him to scramble and come up short of the first down marker.

Gatesville began its initial drive at the Brownwood 26 and three plays later Jalun Taylor scored on a 5-yard jet sweep as the Lions were in a 7-0 hole just 3:25 into the contest.

“We came out and sputtered at the start and had a muffed snap that caused us to turn ball over on around our 20,” Burnett said. “They went in and scored and it's not good when you start a game like that, but our kids are resilient.

“Even though we had some mistakes tonight you have to give our kids credit. They played their tails off, played every play and didn't worry about the scoreboard, they just worried about the play ahead of them and came up with a win.”

The Lions will have their second bye in a span of three weeks next Friday, then visit Stephenville (4-2, 1-0) on Oct. 26. The Yellow Jackets rallied past China Spring (3-3, 0-1) for a 21-14 victory in their district opener Friday.

“This is uncharted territory for me, I've never had a season with two open weeks,” Burnett said. “We're going to treat it like we have a game but be light in what we do and we're not going as long just so we can keep kids healthy. We have some kids banged up that need to get back in shape, but it's a fine line because you have to stay sharp and be good at what we do. We're going to really focus on us and do a lot of film study and self evaluation. We have to make sure we're staying in tune with what we're doing, keep the rust off and stay in shape.”

•••

BROWNWOOD 34

GATESVILLE 14

SCORE BY QUARTER

Brownwood 13 14 0 7 - 34

Gatesville 7 0 0 7 - 14

SCORING SUMMARY

G: Jalun Taylor 5 run (Mason Johnson kick), 8:35, 1st — 0-7

B: Reece Rodgers 14 run (kick failed), 6:55, 1st — 6-7

B: Tommy Bowden 57 run (Zack Smith), 2:01, 1st — 13-7

B: Bowden 4 run (Smith kick), 9:50, 2nd — 20-7

B: Zach Strong 15 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 0:28, 2nd — 27-7

G: Zach Mueller 24 run (Johnson kick), 11:51, 4th — 27-14

B: Strong 25 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 6:00, 4th — 34-14

TEAM STATS

B G

First Downs 21 14

Total Offense 389 270

Rushing Yards 35-234 21-64

Passing Yards 155 206

C-A-I 8-14-1 25-32-0

Fumbles Lost 0 1

Punts 1-20.0 2-36.0

Penalties 7-55 6-55

PLAYER STATS

RUSHING

B: Tommy Bowden 20-154, Reece Rodgers 13-74, Joseph Johnson 2-6.

G: Anthony Costas 4-26, Zach Mueller 2-25, Jalun Taylor 4-11, Preston Preciado 5-8, Kyle Stifflemire 1-4, Jason Delong 1-3, Seth Trotter 4-(-13).

PASSING

B: Bowden 8-14-1-155.

G: Preciado 15-18-0-130; Trotter 8-12-0-69; Mueller 2-2-0-7

RECEIVING

B: Zach Strong 3-46, A.J. McCarty 3-46, Braden Jetton 1-40, Rodgers 1-23.

G: Tyler Lewis 10-85, Mueller 4-48, Stifflemire 4-35, Tahje Miller 3-13, Costas 2-9, Carson Brizendine 1-16; Jeffrey Shonkwiler 1-3.