Through six games, the Brownwood Lions have shown flashes of the team that was expected to compete for both a district and state championship in the preseason. With the season hanging in the balance over the next few weeks, Brownwood head coach Steve Freeman is ready for the Lions to perform with the type of consistency expected of a team wanting to make a lengthy postseason run.
The Lions (2-4, 0-1) have another chance to turn the corner in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. homecoming game as they host a struggling Breckenridge Buckaroos (1-5, 0-1) squad. Two programs with a combined 13 state championships between them renew a storied rivalry that was at its most fierce in the 1960s. Now, each program is in dire need of a victory to avoid a possibly insurmountable deficit in the District 2-3A playoff chase.
“This is district contest No. 2 and every game is a key game. That’s a given,” Freeman said. “Oddly enough, these four ball games are no different regardless of the outcome last week. Our kids understand the scenario and understand the ability to recover with the intent of completeness and moving forward by capitalizing on the good things that took place a week ago.”
Brownwood is coming off a 31-28 loss to Abilene Wylie, which was the Lions’ third loss by seven points or less. During each of those defeats, the Lions were in control at one point or another, only to see the momentum vanish.
With a more complete performance in all aspects of the game, those outcomes could have gone in the Lions’ favor. At a point in the season when losses can no longer be tolerated as learning experiences, a balanced effort in all phases of the game from here on out is imperative to Brownwood’s playoff hopes.
“We’ve been sporadic and I’m ready to see us get on a consistent roll and get a consistent pattern going,” Freeman said. “For the first five ball games there were portions where the offense was consistent and had success. Last week some of the other elements, starting with the defense, came forward and did some good things. Portions of the power game that have been nonexistent we feel are coming around the corner. We also hope we can create a continuity on our offensive front. We’ve mixed and matched for six ball games. If all those things happen, it’s what we call having our ducks in a row. We’ll be right where we need to be and, I believe, hard to beat.”
Last week, the Lions allowed 357 yards of total offense, well below the 416 they have given up on average this season. Brownwood’s offense, meanwhile, racked up another 400-plus yard effort, but four turnovers, and a handful of other missed opportunities, prevented a much more explosive effort.
“Turnovers are never a plus unless they’re coming our way,” Freeman said. “We also had some unsuccessful plays, whether that be ball drops or blown assignments, and that can happen anywhere from the line to the quarterback to the receivers. We need complete focus and effort and that’s what we’re looking for. Those elements will resolve the shortcomings we had a week ago.”
Despite an “off performance” last week, the Lions are still averaging 34 points and 400.5 total yards per game.
Casey Pachall has completed 97-of-157 passes for 1,569 yards with 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also continues to be the leading rusher with 372 yards and five touchdowns.
The Lion ground game flourished last week behind a 139-yard team effort. Derek Longoria (11-94) ran for a team-high 50 yards, while Rashad Deal (43-198, 2 TDs) chipped in 49 yards and a touchdown.
Brownwood’s receiving corps continues to be anchored by the three-headed monster of Shelby Miller (31-572, 4 TDs), Parker Taylor (30-497, 8 TDs) and Travis Holleman (14-256, 5 TDs).
The Lions will be facing a Breckenridge defense that, despite its struggles, allows just 25.3 points and 350.8 total yards per game. The Buckaroos do give up 218.3 yards rushing, which could mean Brownwood will focus more on getting its run game on track. Sweetwater rushed for all 412 of its total yards in last week’s 20-6 victory, but managed just one touchdown until the final 50 seconds of the first half.
“We think they’re going to mix it up, play man and bring heat and see if they can make us be wrong,” Freeman said. “We feel like we have automatic situations with our protection schemes and quick-hit offense. We just have to be moving the ball to places they’re not.”
Breckenridge’s greatest troubles this year have come on offense, where the Buckaroos are averaging just 8.3 points per game. Breckenridge has reached double figures just twice this season, and has not scored more than 12 points in any game.
Quarterback David Howard has completed 50-of-135 passes for 593 yards with just two touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s also rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Troy Roberson (78-395, 2 TDs) is the leading ground gainer for the Buckaroos, while top receiving threats include Paxton Sullivan (17-98), Carlos Valdez (11-203) and Kolby Hartfield (5-107, 2 TDs).
For a Lion defense - led by Tracer Skelton (80 tackles, one interception, one fumble recovery), Payton Ragsdale (66 tackles, interception) and Joseph Bates (51 tackles, two sacks) - that has not allowed less than 24 points in a game this season, Friday could present an opportunity to put forth a dominating effort that could build even more momentum for the district’s stretch run.
“We’ve got our defensive plan intact and set right now, we just have to go execute,” Freeman said. “We have to have people in the right places pre-snap and post-snap, then make plays. We made good strides last week, but our percentages of contact and making stops always has the ability to increase. We just need to continue to put the ball back in our offense’s hands.”