The Brownwood Lions were able to notch their initial district victory last week, but the “easy” opponent on the 2-3A schedule is now behind them.
The Lions (3-4, 1-1) will venture to Newton Field at 7:30 p.m. Friday looking for their first win streak of the season as they face the Graham Steers (1-6, 0-2), who have played their best ball of the season the last two weeks.
Don’t be fooled by Graham’s record. Three of the Steers’ last four losses have been by a touchdown or less, including decisions of 31-24 to Sweetwater last week and 30-26 to Snyder in the league opener. Graham also has scored no fewer than 24 points in any game this season, while the Lions defense has allowed no fewer than 24 points in a single outing.
Graham, which was a 10-2 playoff team a year ago, is hitting its stride after returning just three starters on both sides of the ball. The Steers are also in a must-win situation when it comes to their playoff chances, so the Lions certainly won’t be overlooking Graham.
With contests against Sweetwater and Snyder on the horizon, coupled with Graham’s struggles this season, it’s tempting for fans to chalk up an automatic victory. But Brownwood head coach Steve Freeman made it clear after last week’s 56-26 win over Breckenridge that the Lions are already approaching each game with a do-or-die mindset - which means the focus should be solely on the Steers.
“The playoffs started for us tonight,” said Freeman - who was under the weather this week - following the Breckenridge game.
Points again should be plentiful on both sides Friday, particularly for the Lions. Brownwood is coming off a 627-yard performance, the most by a Freeman-coached Lions team. In three of their last four games, the Lions have scored at least 49 points. During that same span, quarterback Casey Pachall has recorded a pair of 400-yard plus, six-touchdown passing performances.
The only drawback for the Lion offense has been turnovers. Brownwood committed just one last week, but it resulted in one of Breckenridge’s four touchdowns. For the season, the Lions have turned the ball over 14 times - an average of two giveaways per game. That number must decrease during the stretch run for the Lions to achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves.
Heading into Friday’s game, Pachall has completed 112-of-181 passes for 1,968 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also continues to lead the Lions with 451 yards rushing and six scores. Last week against Breckenridge, Pachall completed 16-of-25 passes for 423 yards and six scores.
Pachall’s favorite target last week and this season - Parker Taylor - is coming off a record-breaking performance. Taylor shattered his own school record for receiving yards in a game with 295 on just eight catches with three touchdowns. For the year, Taylor has grabbed 38 receptions for 792 yards and 11 scores.
The Lions have several other receiving options, led by Shelby Miller, who has pulled down 34 catches for 630 yards and six touchdowns - including two last week. Travis Holleman has added 18 receptions for 301 yards and six touchdowns, while another emerging weapon is Vance McShan, who has caught seven passes for 87 yards thus far.
Brownwood’s ground game is coming off a season-high 204-yard effort, and a three-back rotation has developed in recent weeks. Rashad Deal leads the running backs with 258 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries, followed by Levi Perez’s 109 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, along with Derek Longoria’s 101 yards and a touchdown on a 13 rushes.
The Lions will be facing a Graham defense that has been picked apart for much of the season. Entering Friday’s contest, the Steers have allowed 36 points and 383 yards of total offense - 272 rushing and 111 passing - per game.
But the Graham offense, under the direction of head coach Brad McCoy - father of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy - is more than capable of lighting up the scoreboard. The Steers are averaging 24.5 points and 328 total yards - 196 passing and 132 rushing - per outing.
Meanwhile, Brownwood’s defense also has had its share of problems as it surrenders 32.7 points and 404 yards of total offense - 241.7 rushing and 162.3 passing - per game, while forcing eight turnovers. Tracer Skelton continues to lead the Lions with 93 tackles, followed by 73 from Payton Ragsdale, 55 from Joseph Bates and 48 from Bubby Harrell.
Graham is led by quarterback Case McCoy, who has completed 116-of-224 passes for 1,377 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Dillan Fulford leads all Graham receivers with 22 receptions for 409 yards with two touchdowns, while Garrett Spears has added 11 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. Hubble Allen has also contributed 10 receptions for 114 yards and a score.
The ground game is anchored by Cody Parilla, who has rushed for 296 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, along with Cameron Bailey, who has piled up 229 yards and six scores on 37 carries. Parilla also has caught six passes for 70 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
In order for Brownwood to emerge with its first win streak of the season, the defense will have to keep the Steers in check. With the Lions’ goal of reaching the postseason very much still alive, the defense must continue to improve and begin taking pressure off the offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions must avoid the costly turnovers that have plagued them lately. In the last four games, Brownwood has turned the ball over nine times, which the opposition has turned into 45 points. In each of those four games, at least one Lion turnover resulted in a touchdown for the opponent, which could prove to be the difference in any future nail-biters.