ABILENE — The Brownwood Lions continued their summer progression — and survived a close call, which they were unable to do last weekend — as they reached the championship game of Saturday’s Abilene state qualifier to advance to the 7-on-7 state championship tournament for a ninth consecutive year.
After claiming pool play victories over Brady (47-20), Midland Lee (41-28) and San Angelo Central (34-21), the Lions held off the Wichita Falls Coyotes, 33-31, in the tournament semifinals at Abilene Christian University’s Elmer Gray Stadium.
“I felt like from the beginning we were going to qualify; it was just a matter of time,” said Lions 7-on-7 and offensive coordinator Mitch Moore. “We came out and competed hard today and it feels good to qualify. That’s a goal we have, but it’s not our ultimate goal.”
For the second week in a row, the Lions’ state tournament fate came down to the last play of the game. Jarrod Howey quashed a late Coyotes’ charge by breaking up a potential game-tying two-point conversion after Wichita Falls scored on the final snap of regulation.
Seven days earlier, the Lions were in a similar situation as they thought they had punched their ticket for College Station, but a deflected pass on the final snap landed in the arms of a Round Rock McNeil receiver as the Lions suffered a bitter 41-36 defeat.
The first half of Saturday’s semifinal contest was all maroon as Brownwood (9-3 this summer) jumped out to an early 25-0 lead against the Coyotes — who were originally placed in the Lions’ pool but moved to another prior to the start of the tournament.
Brownwood scored on its first four drives and stopped the Coyotes on each of their first three possessions — twice on three-and-outs and once on a fourth-and-goal situation.
Four of Casey Pachall’s five touchdown passes in the game occurred before halftime, and three went to Travis Holleman. Chris Munson caught the other scoring toss.
The Lions’ final touchdown came on their opening drive of the second half as Pachall connected with Corey Burr for the score, while Parker Taylor hauled in the two-point conversion. Brownwood led at that point, 33-13.
The Coyotes stormed back, however, scoring on three of their final four possessions to push the Lions to the limit and set up Howey’s heroics.
“We played a pretty solid first half and then we scored on the first drive of the second half and got the two point conversion,” Moore said. “But we relaxed a little bit and it doesn’t take long to score touchdowns in 7-on-7. It came down to the last play and we got a two-point conversion stop. We can’t let up at any time — in the summer or the fall.”
With their state berth in the bag, a meaningless and weather-shortened championship game saw the Lions fall behind Abilene High, 34-8, before the game was called early in the second half.
Statistically, the Lions put up impressive numbers on both sides of the ball in their first four games Saturday.
Brownwood scored on 65 percent of its possessions (22-of-34) and Pachall completed 69 percent of his pass attempts (98-of-143) with 22 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Taylor was Pachall’s favorite target Saturday, grabbing 27 receptions — including six for touchdowns. Holleman added 16 catches and three scores, Munson finished with 10 receptions and five touchdowns and Garrett Goodwin also hauled in 10 receptions.
Other notable offensive performances included nine catches and two touchdowns from Bubby Harrell; eight catches and a score from Jacob Allen; seven catches and a touchdown by Howey; and both of Shelby Miller’s receptions went for six points.
The defensive numbers were just as admirable for the Lions as their opponents scored on less than half of their drives. Brownwood allowed 15 touchdowns in 34 possessions — just a 44 percent success rate — and also forced six turnovers. The Lions also did not allow an opponent to score on consecutive drives until the second half of their third game.
Kenny Vaccaro picked off a team-high three passes, including one for a touchdown. Payton Ragsdale, Munson and Howey collected one interception apiece.
Though Moore was pleased with the team’s effort, he admitted the Lions still have some work to do before they are ready for fall ball.
“We’ve still got a little learning to do,” Moore said. “We’re just now where we’ve been at the end of school the past couple of years. We’re getting the work we need out of our offense and we have a lot of time left. That’s good because we’re not ready to start the fall. We’ve got room for improvement and we’re not ready yet, but we will be.”
Against Brady in Saturday’s opener, Pachall threw six touchdown passes — two each to Howey and Munson and one apiece to Taylor and Allen. Vaccaro also returned his interception for a touchdown.
Pachall added six more scoring tosses against Midland Lee, half of which went to Taylor. Harrell finished with two touchdown receptions and Munson pulled in another. Defensively, the Lions intercepted three passes.
Vaccaro intercepted a pair of passes in the final pool game against San Angelo Central, while Pachall chalked up five more touchdowns. Miller and Taylor grabbed two each while Munson hauled in the other.
Before the Lions embark on their trip to College Station and the 7-on-7 state tournament at Texas A&M on July 13-14, they must first play host to their own state qualifier this Saturday.
Currently the 16-team field includes Brownwood, Early, Richland Springs, Abilene, Stephenville, Georgetown, Abilene Cooper, Hays Consolidated, Copperas Cove, Lampasas, Cedar Park Vista Ridge, Gatesville, Eastland, Granbury, Brady and San Antonio Clark.
Brownwood, Stephenville, Abilene and Georgetown have all qualified for state and will likely be placed in different pools since they cannot advance to the semifinals.
“Now that we’ve qualified, we can play our pool games in our tournament and get ourselves ready to go down to College Station and represent our program and our town like we have in the past,” Moore said.