WACO — If the Brownwood Lions continue the 180-degree turnaround they have displayed through the first two games of the 2009 campaign, the maroon and white could be in store for a very special season.

In a complete flip-flop from last year’s encounter, it was the undersized Lions who frustrated and eventually wore down the much larger La Vega Pirates en route to a 24-7 victory at Pirate Stadium Friday night.

On the heels of a last-minute defensive stand that led Brownwood past Burnet, 27-24, in the season opener, the Lions (2-0) limited the reigning Class 3A Division I state finalist Pirates (1-1) to just 224 yards of total offense and pitched a second-half shutout.

Offensively, Brownwood racked up 341 total yards and seized the momentum behind 15 first-half points.

“Overall it was just a great team effort by our team,” said Lions first-year head coach Bob Shipley. “Our offense sputtered in the third quarter and at other times throughout the game, but the defense continued to make the big stops we needed.”

Last season’s 31-14 loss to La Vega signaled the beginning of the end for the Lions defense, but Friday night a full-fledged revival may have occurred. The Pirates outscored Brownwood 17-0 in the second half last year, but failed to even reach the red zone after halftime Friday.

La Vega’s first three second-half drives ended in three-and-outs, while the fourth featured a 46-yard run by Kenneth Coleman, who finished with a team-high 125 yards rushing. The Pirate march halted four plays after Coleman’s long sprint as La Vega failed to convert a 4th-and-2 at the Brownwood 26.

“La Vega can go the distance on any given play, so I didn’t feel good until the last series when we were able to run out the clock,” Shipley said. “But I can’t say enough about how hard our guys played. They have a goal to be the hardest hitting team in the state of Texas, and I’m not saying whether they are or aren’t, but they came out for the second week in a row and played lights out for four quarters.”

Despite a noticeable size disadvantage, the Lions defense controlled the line of scrimmage. Four La Vega rushes accounted for 104 of its 190 yards on the ground, while the Pirates rushed for just 86 yards on their other 35 carries — an average of 2.5 yards per tote.

“Coach (defensive coordinator Chuck) Howard and the guys on defense really worked hard with the guys on getting their pads down low,” Shipley said. “One thing we noticed last year watching film was the guys’ pad level was too high. You can’t play a team that wants to roll over you with your pads that high. We did a good job getting underneath them and creating piles. That was the name of the game.”

Offensively, the Lions again were turnover-free and were able to successfully battle bouts of inconsistency and produce points at crucial junctures.

Brownwood opened the scoring on its second drive, moving 56 yards in eight plays before Dillon Ellis converted his third field goal of the young season, a 23-yarder, which staked the Lions to a 3-0 lead at the 6:51 mark of the first period.

La Vega grabbed its only lead on a 4-yard Coleman run with 7:59 left in the first half, but the Lions immediately answered with an eight-play, 68-yard drive that culminated at the 5:36 mark of the second period on a 19-yard scoring toss from Graylon Brown to Stehl Ratliff. The Lions failed to convert the extra point, but regained a 9-7 lead they would not relinquish.

“The play wasn’t designed to go to me, it was designed to go to a deeper receiver,” said Ratliff, who rushed for a team-high 53 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and caught a team-high five passes for 41 yards. “Graylon saw me, though, picked me out and threw me the ball.”

La Vega marched into Brownwood territory on its ensuing drive, but a third-and-4 fumble by Coleman was recovered by Caden Ellis — who also scooped up a loose ball against Burnet — at the Lion 47 with 2:49 left in the half.

“That was just an act of desperation on their part,” Shipley said. “Their guy got stopped on third and short and the guy just threw the ball up in the air trying to make something happen. We were able to get the ball and go down and make something happen with it.”

The Lions quickly maneuvered 53 yards in eight plays before Brown capped the touchdown drive on a 2-yard run with 16 seconds left before halftime. Brownwood again botched the extra point, but led 15-7 at intermission.

Brown, who finished 19-of-35 for 228 yards, completed 16-of-22 passes for 187 yards in the opening half. The Lions ran the ball just six times for 17 yards in the first two quarters, but as Brownwood began to wear down the Pirates, the number of carries increased in the second half.

“We came out in the second half and wanted to run the ball more, and we would have in the second quarter but we had a lot of penalties and things that got us into long yardage situations,” Shipley said. “We were able to come back in the second half and be more productive running the ball. Stehl Ratliff again proved that he is one of the top backs in the district and the area. He’s a tough runner and the guys really blocked hard for him.”

After a safety — the result of a poor snap on a La Vega punt attempt just 2:07 into the second half — pushed the Lions’ advantage to two scores, 17-7, Brownwood began to rely on its conditioning to further exhaust the Pirates.

The Lions ran for 96 of their 113 yards on the ground in the second half, with the key carry being Ratliff’s 16-yard touchdown with 10:27 left that gave Brownwood the final 17-point margin of victory.

“The run, that was just a great drive, and that was me trying to fill my Ratliff family shoes,” said Ratliff, who kept his balance long enough to score, despite stumbling the last 7 yards.

Added Shipley, “I really think La Vega got wore out, and that’s a recurring theme after two weeks. The other team just ran out of gas.”

The Lions will attempt to open the Shipley era with three straight wins next Friday as they visit archrival Stephenville (0-2), which is winless after a 45-14 loss to Denton Guyer Friday.

Lions 24, La Vega 7

Bwd 3 12 2 7 - 24

La Vega 0 7 0 0 - 7

Scoring Summary

B: Dillon Ellis 23 FG, 6:51, 1st

L: Kenneth Coleman 4 run (Eddy Gonzales kick), 7:59, 2nd

B: Stehl Ratliff 19 pass from Graylon Brown (kick failed), 5:36, 2nd

B: Brown 2 run (kick failed), 0:16, 2nd

B: Safety; punt snapped out of end zone, 9:53, 3rd

B: Ratliff 16 run (Ellis kick), 10:27, 4th

Team Statistics

B L

First downs 18 13

Total Yards 341 224

Rush-Yards 23-113 39-190

Passing yards 228 34

C-A-I 19-35-0 2-11-0

Fumbles-Lost 1-0 5-1

Punts-Avg. 6-36.8 5-25.8

Penalties-Yards 7-47 4-25

Individual Statistics

Rushing — B: Stehl Ratliff 9-53, Graylon Brown 8-46, Levi Perez 4-7, Derek Longoria 2-7. L: Kenneth Coleman 25-126.

Passing — B: Brown 19-35-0, Vance McShan 0-1-0-0. L: Devin McGowan 2-9-0-34

Receiving — B: Ratliff 5-41, Dillon Ellis 4-64, Luke Chastain 4-55, McShan 2-32, Cade Johnson 2-13, Longoria 1-15, Jesse Coppic 1-8. L: Anthony Martinez 1-30.Rushing — B: Stehl Ratliff 9-53, Graylon Brown 8-46, Levi Perez 4-7, Derek Longoria 2-7. L: Kenneth Coleman 25-126.

Passing — B: Brown 19-35-0, Vance McShan 0-1-0-0. L: Devin McGowan 2-9-0-34

Receiving — B: Ratliff 5-41, Dillon Ellis 4-64, Luke Chastain 4-55, McShan 2-32, Cade Johnson 2-13, Longoria 1-15, Jesse Coppic 1-8. L: Anthony Martinez 1-30.