STEPHENVILLE — Though the Brownwood Lions were ineligible to advance past pool play, that didn’t prevent them from adding three more victories to their 7-on-7 state qualifying tournament total.
The state-bound Lions — who earned their 10th straight trip to the state tournament with last weekend’s runner-up finish at Arlington Bowie — swept Pool A Saturday at the Tarleton 7-on-7 Division II state qualifier, upping their summer record to 7-1.
Brownwood slipped past pool semifinal representative Wellington, 34-33, in the opener, then cruised past fellow 3A schools Smithville, 52-7, and Lorena, 38-14.
Lions first-year head coach Bob Shipley stated defense would be a focal point for Brownwood Saturday as it worked more on its 11-man defensive schemes. After a sluggish start against Class A Wellington, the Lions finished with six interceptions in their final two games — including three that were returned for touchdowns.
“We were a little slow starting out, but we were running pretty much exclusively our coverages that we’ll run in the fall,” Shipley said. “It’s a defense that’s designed to stop the run and the pass, and it took a little while for our kids to get used to it, but then we wound up with three or so interceptions we ran back for touchdowns. I was talking to a coach from Lorena and he said they hadn’t been blown out all summer. It was good for us to wind up on a good note.”
Chris Cotton led the Lions with a pair of interceptions, including one he returned for six points. Stehl Ratliff and Derek Longoria also picked off one pass each — both of which were returned for touchdowns — while Tyler Harth and Michael Ballejo added interceptions as well.
Offensively, the Lions weren’t quite as sharp as they were at Arlington Bowie, which Shipley attributed to the team knowing it had already punched its ticket to College Station.
“I think our guys had a little more of a relaxed attitude today knowing they’d already qualified and couldn’t advance past pool play,” Shipley said. “That’s not always a good thing. They need to keep their sharp edge, focus and have a very competitive attitude whether we can advance or not.
“Offensively, I thought we were OK. We were a little sloppy and tried to force the ball into coverage too much today, but that’s stuff we can look at and talk about and try and get better on.”
Quarterback Graylon Brown completed 70-of-90 pass attempts with 16 touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
Jaxon Shipley and Luke Chastain led the Lions with 17 receptions each. Seven of Shipley’s catches resulted in touchdowns, while Chastain made three scoring grabs.
Vance McShan chipped in 15 catches and two scores, while Cade Johnson added 11 receptions and three touchdowns. Levi Perez contributed four catches, Dillon Ellis hauled in three receptions and a touchdown, Harth caught two passes and Ratliff finished with one reception.
In Saturday’s opener against Wellington, an interception returned for a touchdown and a two-point conversion put the Lions in a hole for the only time, 15-14, midway through the first half.
Brownwood answered with a go-ahead score on a toss from Brown to Shipley, then after a defensive stop, Chastain hauled in a touchdown reception from Brown as the Lions built a 28-15 halftime edge.
Wellington scored the first two touchdowns of the second half to close the gap to 28-27, but Brown found Ellis on a scoring toss to push the Lions’ lead to 34-27.
Another touchdown by Wellington trimmed the deficit to 34-33, but the Skyrockets were unable to convert the extra-point and Brownwood ran out the clock.
The Lions’ best performance came in their second outing against Smithville.
Brownwood jumped out to a 20-0 halftime lead on two scoring tosses from Brown to McShan and a Chastain touchdown reception.
In the second half, Smithville opened the scoring with its only touchdown, but Brownwood answered with a scoring toss from Brown to Johnson for a 26-7 lead. Cotton and Ratliff then returned interceptions for touchdowns, increasing the edge to 39-7.
Shipley and Johnson added scoring receptions following a defensive stop and an interception by Ballejo for the final 45-point margin.
In Saturday’s finale, the Lions held Lorena scoreless in the second half after building a 25-14 halftime edge.
The Lions scored the first 13 points on a Brown to Shipley scoring toss and a Longoria interception at the goal line he returned for six points.
Lorena closed the gap to 19-14 before Brown and Shipley hooked up again right before halftime.
In the second half, Brown and Shipley connected for their third scoring connection of the game, while McShan added the other touchdown.
The Lions’ District 2-3A rivals — Abilene Wylie and Snyder — qualified for state out of the Tarleton tournament.
Brownwood will host its own 7-on-7 Division II state qualifier next Saturday, with all games slated to take place at the BHS practice fields. Pool games begin at 9 a.m. with the semifinals to start at 1 p.m. after a one-hour break, and the championship game set to take place at 2 p.m.
“There will be several teams there that have already qualified, so we’ll try to divide them out evenly among the pools,” Shipley said. “ I want to make our pool very competitive. I want to pick the best teams that haven’t qualified yet and put them in our pool. There are teams coming from Andrews, Houston, 16 teams rolling in from all over. It’s good for us, good for Brownwood and good for the economy. If folks want to come by and see some balls flying through the air, they’ll have a chance Saturday.”