A Friday night filled with drama and emotion could not have reached a more fitting ending for the Brownwood Lions.
With former teammate Josh Hernandez leading the Lions through the Dallas Huston Walk of Champions, Brownwood displayed its resiliency time and again as it rallied past the Burnet Bulldogs, 27-24, to give first-year head coach Bob Shipley his first victory in maroon and white.
Stehl Ratliff scored on a 13-yard counter with 1:07 remaining, and Luke Chastain hauled in a two-point pass from Graylon Brown, as the Lions answered Burnet’s go-ahead touchdown at 2:14 mark.
Then the Lions defense, which was the Achilles’ heel of the 2008 squad, denied Burnet a chance to spoil the evening. Brownwood did not allow the Bulldogs past the Lion 44, and Kevin Vaccaro broke up two of the final three pass attempts, as the Lions sealed the victory.
Shipley addressed the team with a fiery “How bout them Lions!” and a fist pump as he began his first postgame conference with the team.
“It’s a relief to get that first win, I don’t care who we’re playing,” said Shipley, who graduated from Burnet and led the Bulldogs to the 2002 and 2003 Class 3A Division I state championship games. “It’s not about me, it’s about our kids stepping up and doing what they had to do to win the ball game.”
The Lions trailed by nine points at halftime, 18-9, but scored 10 points in the third period to seize a 19-18 edge they held until late in the fourth period. Then in the closing minutes, Brownwood’s preseason emphasis on conditioning paid huge dividends.
“We’ve worked incredibly hard since the first day of two-a-days on conditioning, and we told the guys we were going to win games in the second half,” Shipley said. “We were down 18-9 at halftime and sometimes an obstacle can bring out the momentum. I told our guys if we come out and make big plays, play with enthusiasm on defense, and continued to get the fast-paced offense going, we could wear them down and get things going.”
Trailing 19-18, Burnet marched 60 yards in five plays after Brownwood failed to convert a fourth-and-2 at the Bulldog 40. Following a 27-yard scramble by quarterback Dillon Chafin, Jathan Craig caught a 15-yard scoring toss from Chafin that pushed Burnet back in front, 24-19.
“We went for it on fourth-and-2 and we shouldn’t have done that,” Shipley said. “I got caught up in the moment, and I can’t do that as a coach. That decision comes down to me, and we should have pinned them back. We all made mistakes tonight, and I had my share. But we’ll get them corrected.”
Brownwood’s game-winning drive began on its 30 after the ensuing kickoff rolled out of bounds.
Brown, who completed 19-of-30 passes for 224 yards in his first varsity start, connected on a 14-yard screen to Ratliff and a 9-yard toss to Dillon Ellis, who caught a team-high six passes for 108 yards.
Facing second-and-1 at the Burnet 38, Ratliff picked up 25 yards on a shuffle pass, then rumbled 13 yards on the next play for the decisive score.
“It was an exciting drive, and I felt like I needed to make a play when I finally got my chance,” Ratliff said. “Our team scored that touchdown, it was their effort, not just mine. I give all the credit to my line.”
On its final drive, Burnet completed a 24-yard pass to the Lion 46, but converted just one more pass, a 2 -yarder, as the Brownwood defense held.
“That was a big confidence builder for us, to make the defensive stop when we had to,” Shipley said. “Sure we gave up some big plays, but we made some big plays, too. There were some mistakes we’ll take care of, but the fight the kids had in them and making a stand when they had to, that makes a statement that our defense has a lot of heart.”
The Lions surrendered 319 total yards, but recorded four sacks and allowed just 34 yards rushing on 22 carries. Chafin, a third-team all-state quarterback last season, completed 26-of-34 passes for 285 yards — most of which came on screen passes. Josh Barrera led Burnet with eight catches for 122 yards.
Brownwood racked up 350 total yards, and rushed for 126 yards on 35 carries. Brown rushed for a team-high 59 yards, Levi Perez finished with 37 yards and Ratliff chipped in 35.
Down 18-9 at halftime, the Lions took their opening drive of the second half 46 yards in seven plays before Brown hurled a 16-yard scoring toss to Cade Johnson. Ellis caught a 19-yard pass on third-and-17 to extend the drive and move the ball to the Burnet 34.
Two plays later, the Lions defense forced a fumble on a Quade Stubblefield carry, which Caden Ellis recovered and returned the Burnet 13. Brownwood could not push the ball into the end zone, but Dillon Ellis drilled his second field goal — a 32-yarder — to give Brownwood a 19-18 lead.
A 27-yard field goal by Ellis with 3:04 left in the first period resulted in Brownwood’s first points and first lead of the season, 3-0.
Burnet took its first lead with 8:19 left in the first half as Chafin hooked up with Brandon Jacque on a 22-yard scoring toss to make the score 7-3. The play came immediately after a poor snap to Derek Longoria on a punt resulted in a 10-yard loss and a huge swing in field position.
Brownwood regained the lead, 9-7, with 6:17 left in the half on a 5-yard run by Brown, which followed a 66-yard catch and run by Ellis.
Burnet bounced back with a 50-yard scoring pass from Chafin to Barrera, while Tyler Clark converted a 39-yard field goal with 16 seconds left in the half to give Burnet its nine-point cushion.
Brownwood will shoot for its first win streak since 2007 when it invades La Vega on Friday.
“This has to be the greatest feeling of this season so far, and I’m sure there’s many more great feelings to come,” Ratliff said.
Burnet 0 18 0 6 - 24
Lions 3 6 10 8 - 27
Bwd: Dillon Ellis 27 FG, 3:24, 1st
Bur: Brandon Jacque 22 pass from Dillon Chafin (Tyler Clark kick), 8:19, 2nd
Bwd: Graylon Brown 5 run (kick failed), 6:17, 2nd
Bur: Josh Barrera 50 pass from Chafin (Spencer Thurman pass from Stephen Young), 5:10, 2nd
Bur: Clark 39 FG, 0:16, 2nd
Bwd: Cade Johnson 16 pass from Brown (Ellis kick), 7:05, 3rd
Bwd: Ellis 32 FG, 5:04, 3rd
Bur: Jathan Craig 15 pass from Chafin (pass failed), 2:14, 4th
Bwd: Stehl Ratliff 13 run (Luke Chastain pass from Brown), 1:07, 4th
First downs 19 19
Total Yards 319 350
Rush-Yards 22-34 35-126
Passing yards 285 224
C-A-I 26-34-0 19-30-0
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-1
Punts-Avg. 4-33.2 3-35.3
Penalties-Yards 5-50 7-55
Rushing — Bur: Stephen Young 5-34, Quade Stubblefield 2-4. Bwd: Graylon Brown 17-59, Levi Perez 9-37, Stehl Ratliff 5-35, Vance McShan 2-3, Cade Johnson 1-2, Team 1-(10).
Passing — Bur: Dillon Chafin 26-34-0-285. Bwd: Brown 19-30-0-224
Receiving — Bur: Josh Barrera 8-122, Brandon Jacque 6-81, Jathan Craig 6-38. Bwd: Dillon Ellis 6-108, Cade Johnson 4-20, Levi Perez 6-26, Stehl Ratliff 3-43, Luke Chastain 2-17.