GORDON WOOD CLASSIC
Sweetwater (0-1) at No. 9 Brownwood (1-0)
7:30 p.m. Friday — Gordon Wood Stadium
2006 Result: Sweetwater 24, Brownwood 21
Though the No. 9 Brownwood Lions controlled the momentum throughout the majority of their 28-21 season-opening victory over Abilene Wylie last week, the win wasn’t sealed until the final minutes.
Denying the Sweetwater Mustangs (0-1) a chance to hang around is among this week’s main objectives for the Lions (1-0) as they prepare for their annual Gordon Wood Classic contest, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“Historically, Sweetwater has always played the dog out of us,” said Lions head coach Steve Freeman. “We had a series with them in the late ’90s and they played us tough every year. Last year, the entire game we were playing catch-up after falling behind by a couple of touchdowns in the first three or four minutes.”
Sweetwater kicked a 44-yard field goal on the last play of regulation to defeat the Lions, 24-21, in the Sammy Baugh Classic at the Mustang Bowl last season. The majority of Brownwood’s roster had played in just one varsity game prior to that contest, but this season the experience lies with the Lions.
Brownwood is returning seven starters on each side of the ball, while Sweetwater lost 18 lettermen and welcomes back just three offensive and six defensive starters from last year’s 9-3 playoff squad.
The Mustangs’ growing pains were evident last week as they surrendered 406 yards passing and six touchdowns to Wichita Falls quarterback Ben Henderson in a 40-19 loss.
Despite the success Wichita Falls enjoyed through the air, don’t expect the Lions to abandon their rushing attack in favor of extra emphasis on the passing game Friday night.
“We have a pretty routine progression we try to make every week,” Freeman said. “We’re not going to isolate something right off the bat because another team hurt them with it. This will be new for their defense to see because of our balanced attack and the way we run and throw. Our objective is to get ready for the games in October and November. We don’t want to get off into left field. We only have four opportunities left before district starts, and that’s where we want to be consistent with each phase.”
Brownwood performed well in both offensive aspects against Wylie as the Lions finished with 301 yards rushing on 29 carries — an average of 10.4 per rush — and passed for 160 yards with a 59 percent completion rate.
Junior quarterback Casey Pachall racked up 196 yards rushing on 15 carries and completed 10-of-17 passes with a touchdown. Senior tailback Corey Burr added 78 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns on 12 carries, and Travis Holleman averaged 13.5 yards per carry on his two rushes.
The top receivers for the Lions were Burr, with three catches for 38 yards, and Parker Taylor, who grabbed three passes for 32 yards — including a 6-yard touchdown and the game-clinching first down catch on third-and-8 from the midfield stripe.
But the biggest plus Freeman and the coaching staff were gushing about was the number of penalties Brownwood’s offense committed — zero.
On the down side, the Lions advanced to the Wylie 25 five times last week without coming away with points, including three trips inside the 10.
“First and foremost, there were no offensive penalties and that’s usually the other end of the spectrum for us in the past few openers,” Freeman said. “We want to continue to move the ball and move the chains this week, and when we’re in the red zone we want to finish drives.
“We felt like we probably had multiple opportunities to really solidify the momentum last week, but at the end we converted a big third down and were able to hold on to the ball and run out the clock.”
Defensively, the Lions yielded 291 yards of total offense to Wylie — 176 rushing and 115 passing. The Bulldogs averaged 5.9 yards per play, but the Lions forced a huge turnover that proved to be the difference in the game.
Senior middle linebacker Jordan Longoria, who recorded a team-high 11 tackles, picked off Jared Wallace three plays into the second half and returned the interception 55 yards for a touchdown. At the time, the play gave Brownwood a 21-7 advantage.
“Any time the defense can force turnovers and put points on the board it’s a positive,” Freeman said. “There were definitely some good positives and cornerstones to build on on both sides of the ball.”
Senior defensive end David Fisher added nine tackles, while junior safety Kenny Vaccaro and senior outside linebacker Mitchell Tharp chipped in with eight tackles each.
The negatives for the Lions were five penalties for 50 yards, including one that negated a turnover at the Wylie 21. But since the mistakes were due to hustle, they were deemed much more acceptable.
“The penalties we did have were unintentional and were the circumstance of kids playing hard,” Freeman said. “We don’t want to contradict ourselves and become cautious to avoid those types of penalties. Anything flagrant, though, that’s another story.”
Sweetwater will bring its customary triple option attack to Gordon Wood Stadium, and the Mustangs could use one of two quarterbacks. Starter Thomas Holsey missed the opener with a back injury as Zach Birdwell filled in and completed 4-of-10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for 50 yards and two more scores.
Nathan Bobbitt caught Birdwell’s 23-yard scoring toss, while Steven Fields added a team-high 73 yards rushing on nine carries. Martin Williams also chipped in 43 yards on 10 rushes and was one of nine Mustangs with at least one carry against Wichita Falls.
“Offensively, they’re still a triple option attack mixed with some power game and some play-action passes,” Freeman said. “Relative to last year, we want to correct the number of yards allowed after the point of attack. We have to make sure the discipline of our assignments against their option scheme is done well.”
GORDON WOOD CLASSIC NOTES
The Lions will be shooting for their first 2-0 start since 2003, which was also the first season of the Gordon Wood Classic.
This year marks the first time Brownwood has not played in the 7:30 p.m. Saturday finale, which will feature Ballinger vs. Brady in the Classic’s only other game this year.
The Goldthwaite-Wall game, originally scheduled for tonight, was moved back to Goldthwaite and will be held Friday. Howard Payne, which played in the Classic for the first time last season, is off this weekend.
Among the reasons for the shift in Brownwood’s game is the large contingent of Lions fans — including Coach Freeman and his family — expected to travel to Norman, Okla. Saturday to watch Kirby Freeman and the Miami Hurricanes battle the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners at 11 a.m. The game will be televised by ABC.