With two impressive scrimmages under their belts, the No. 7 Brownwood Lions are anxious to make their first splash on the Class 3A scene since 1979 when they open the season Saturday against the Burnet Bulldogs in the Dave Campbell’s Texas Football Kickoff Classic.
The Lions, who will square off with Burnet for the third straight season at 3:45 p.m. Saturday, are making their second trip to the San Antonio Alamodome for the Classic. Brownwood is looking to even its record at the event after suffering a 35-32 loss to Fort Worth Dunbar in 2002.
“We’ve been down there before in the Classic and we’re honored to be one of the teams that has been selected to repeat,” said Lions head coach Steve Freeman. “I think there have been over 70 teams statewide that have participated in the Classic, and a few of them have had the honor of being back more than one time. I think this speaks well of our town, our school and our program, because there’s a whole lot more schools out there.
“It’s a great way to start because it presents a mentality and environment of a playoff atmosphere, which is what we want. We want to be in those type ball games. We don’t overplay the fact that we’re beginning in San Antonio, but we do want to build on the fact of ending in a venue such as that later in December.”
The Lions and Bulldogs are no strangers, splitting their two meetings the last two seasons. Brownwood won 12-9 at Burnet last year, while the Bulldogs picked up a 40-22 win at the Gordon Wood Classic in 2006.
The rubber match will be decided on neutral turf, but the Lions having a sense of familiarity with their season-opening foe is not the advantage some may think, stated Freeman.
“It’s a two-way street in that we can game plan for them, but they can also game plan for us,” Freeman said. “We anticipate that Burnet will be somewhat relative to where they’ve been, with a few changes. I’m sure we’ll be the same, with a few changes. But we’ve seen teams go through scrimmages before and then come Game 1 they are in a completely different thought process. Normally that would tell you they were drawing at straws and searching. With the scrimmage tapes that we’ve traded, things look familiar with Burnet.”
The Bulldogs, who like Brownwood are returning to 3A, bring back 12 lettermen - including four offensive and six defensive starters - from last year’s 5-6 playoff squad.
Second-year head coach Doyle Walker is expecting the Burnet defense to be its strength early in the season with returnees including linebacker Chandler West (63 tackles), ends Bobby Gage (33 tackles) and Alex Wallace (30 tackles, 8 sacks), tackle Brandon Ortiz (23 tackles) and secondary member Justin Willis (22 tackles).
Offensively, running back Bubba Richards (786 yards, 5 TDs) is the most established weapon on the roster. Other running backs expected to see time include Jathan Craig, Quade Stubblefield, Ethan Lyda, Stephen Young and West.
During their scrimmages, the Bulldogs used three different quarterbacks - Dillon Chafin, Jack Dickison and Tyler Hughes.
Leading receiving threats include Justin Wills, Clint Hall and Gage Stubblefield.
“They’ve graduated some good players, as did we, and we’re both kind of in the same boat a little bit,” Freeman said. “They’ve got some familiar faces with some good replacement, and we have the same.
“They’ve got some key players, one being the running back, that will be relative to last year’s runner. They had a good runner that was also a good linebacker, and we’ll see some of that again with both of their running backs. They also have a good mix on the offensive line and the front seven on defense.”
One player that won’t return for the Bulldogs is kicker Ross Evans, who is playing for TCU this fall. Evans accounted for all nine Bulldog points last year on field goals of 29, 45 and 47 yards in the first quarter.
Special teams for both teams could be a question mark in the opener, which is often a coaching staff’s greatest concern early in the season due to a lack of work in that area of the game during scrimmages. But Freeman feels confident the measures the Lions have taken in preseason workouts have them prepared.
“The kicking game becomes the real deal now and we’ve made those preparations since the first day of practice with both personnel and base plans,” Freeman said. “We’ll ensure there’s not any loose strings or that anything’s been overlooked, and then we’ll go execute.”
The Lions - who are carrying 36 players on the varsity roster this week - are expected to continue their rotation of players both at the skill positions, and in the trenches, during the opener.
It’s hard to argue with the results, as the Lions tallied 10 touchdowns and a field goal offensively, while allowing just two touchdowns in scrimmages against 4A Midway and 5A San Angelo Central.
Leading the way at the skill positions will be quarterback and TCU commit Casey Pachall (16-of-23, 339 yards, 3 TDs in Central scrimmage), running back Rashad Deal (10 carries, 148 yards, 3 TDs) and receivers Parker Taylor (four catches, 114 yards, 3 TDs), Shelby Miller (eight catches, 116 yards), Travis Holleman and Bubby Harrell (two catches for 58 yards each).
Expected to figure into both the offensive and defensive line mix will be LSU commit Stavion Lowe, Jake Senkirik, Francisco Castaneda, Daniel Nguyen, Michael Gonzales, Billy Allen, Tracer Skelton, Jorge De La Paz, Dylan Burleson, George Vela and Zach Green.
Defensive ends include Richard Lopez, Ryan Elliott, Jesse Coppic, Jaron Wilson, Tyler Harth and Derek Longoria, while top linebacker prospects include Skelton, Joseph Bates, Daniel Gonzales and Weston Jacobs.
The secondary will consist of Payton Ragsdale, Tanner Vaughn, Hayden Hewitt, Christian Arredondo, Andrew Bullard, Taylor Chesser, Tyler Kemp, Dillon Scott, Vance McShan and Levi Perez. Those players will also factor into the mix at running back and receiver on offense, as well.
“It will be real similar to what we’ve seen the last couple of weeks,” Freeman said of the rotations. “There’s always, early in the season, some portion of rotation just to ensure against the fatigue factor. Part of that has to be played out well on our half, but also with a strong mentality on our kids’ behalf, too. We’ve always had multiple skill guys that mixed and matched on both sides of the ball, and gradually, even more so this year, we’ve had more people up front mixed and matched on both sides of the ball.”
As for what it will take for the Lions to emerge from their opener victorious, Freeman cited effort and execution.
“First and foremost we have to play extremely hard,” Freeman said. “We’ve talked about that with the players and there is no doubt, regardless of the reps that somebody might be taking in any of three phases of the game. We’ve really built on the continuity factor and the kids feel really strong about that.
“With that in place, the percentages of mistakes are lessened substantially. We want to make sure our mistakes are at a minimum whether it be penalties, negative plays or turnovers. We talked that up pretty strong throughout the offseason because for much of our season last year the opponent wasn’t so much our problem as much as our own mistakes were.”