With the start of District 2-3A action just a week away, the Brownwood Lions are looking to halt a three-game skid and re-establish some positive momentum when the Class 4A Manor Mustangs (1-3) visit Gordon Wood Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Lions (1-3), who are coming off their bye, have continued their trend of scheduling a game the week prior to their district opener. Brownwood head coach Steve Freeman adopted this philosophy in an attempt to make sure the Lions have no rust to shake off during the most important stretch of games during the regular season.
“We chose to come back after an open week and get a game before district play starts,” Freeman said. “Most of our district has the open week and then starts district, but it seems like it took us a little bit to get cranked up even with some of the more seasoned teams that we’ve had over the years. With the more youthful teams, it really seems like it made a big difference.”
Brownwood’s last outing was a 56-49 loss at No. 1 Liberty Hill on Sept. 19. In a game that featured 1,162 total yards, 53 first downs and no punts, the Lions were an onside kick recovery short of potentially ending the Panthers’ 28-game win streak.
While the Lions have had their share of bright spots during their first four games of the season, piecing together a solid performance on both sides of the ball is something Brownwood has lacked. Freeman and company hope to end that trend Friday night.
Through the first four games of the season, the Lion offense is averaging 31.5 points and 374.8 total yards - 253.8 passing and 121 yards rushing - per game. Defensively, Brownwood is yielding 35.5 points and 437.3 total yards - 248.3 rushing and 189 yards passing - per contest.
“We’re really trying to still put some form of mark behind a game,” Freeman said. “It’s been an odd scenario up to this point in that a bunch of the game is a good performance, but a portion of it has not been good and cost us in the win-loss column. We still need to erase the down sides.”
The Lions and Manor share two common opponents in Liberty Hill and Burnet. While Brownwood earned a split against those foes, the Mustangs are coming off back-to-back losses by a combined score of 97-7.
In those two games combined, Manor mustered a mere 223 yards of total offense while turning the ball over seven times. Defensively, the Mustangs allowed a combined 959 yards of total offense and surrendered seven touchdowns in each game.
In a 48-0 loss to Burnet, the Mustangs’ most recent outing, Manor finished with just 70 yards of total offense and turned the ball over five times.
But Freeman has cautioned the Lions about underestimating Manor - an 8-3 playoff team from a year ago which returns four offensive and five defensive starters - and looking ahead to next week’s District 2-3A opener at No. 7 Abilene Wylie.
“Comparing opponents and scores is one of the worst mistakes in athletics period, but especially in high school football,” Freeman said. “We addressed that with the kids on Monday. We have to be very careful, but we believe we have grown a lot through this part of the season. They know there’s not any room to have an ounce of that thought process.”
Manor is led offensively by quarterback Riley Beecher, who passed for 1,700 yards and rushed for another 200 while amassing 19 touchdowns last season. The backfield features a trio of rushing threats in Lawrence Roberts (935 total yards, 13 TDs in 2007), LaDarrien Williams and DaQuan Roberts, while receiver Donte Moore has returned after missing the 2007 season with an injury.
“Manor’s a talented ball club and they’ve got some really good looking kids,” Freeman said. “They went through a coaching transition, but we know they have a returning quarterback that threw for 1,700 yards or so on a playoff team last year. You can tell they are capable of moving the football, they just haven’t been able to put it all together at the right time.”
The Lion defense - which is looking to hold its first opponent under 24 points - is led by linebacker Tracer Skelton, who is tops on the team with 60 tackles, while safety Payton Ragsdale has chipped in 54.
The Mustangs’ 3-4 defense has given up 34.5 points per game overall, and has allowed an average of 428.3 total yards per game in the team’s three losses. Defensive end Chris Scott is the top returning starter with 52 tackles and six sacks a year ago.
Brownwood’s offense is coming off one of its best passing performances in school history as quarterback Casey Pachall completed 24-of-36 attempts for 477 yards and six touchdowns against Liberty Hill. For the season, Pachall has connected on 68-of-107 passes for 1,015 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also leads the team with 219 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Receivers Parker Taylor and Shelby Miller are also coming off career days as Taylor snared 11 receptions for 217 yards and two touchdowns two weeks ago, while Miller grabbed seven catches for 114 yards and three scores. For the season, Taylor has hauled in 21 receptions for 406 yards with six touchdowns, and Miller also has pulled down 21 catches covering 332 yards with four scores.
Another dangerous weapon in the passing game is Travis Holleman (10-204, 4 TDs), who caught four passes for 135 yards and a touchdown against Liberty Hill.
Among the areas of focus for the Lions during last week’s bye was getting players healthy, however, starting offensive linemen Stavion Lowe and Michael Gonzales are expected to again miss Friday’s contest. The good news is sophomore replacements Dylan Burleson and Matt Newton did a more than admirable job of filling in up front as the Lions racked up a season-high 578 yards of total offense against Liberty Hill.
“One thing we made an attempt to focus on during the open week was getting some people closer to being healed, but I don’t know if we made much headway on that,” Freeman said. “Anything that could be done we made an attempt to do, but it appears we’ll probably be pretty much identical to where we were a couple of weeks ago, health-wise.”