Eighteen points aren’t needed this time, a victory by any margin will do.
With a win over the Midway Panthers (4-5, 1-3) in Friday’s 7:30 p.m. regular season finale at Panther Stadium, the Brownwood Lions (6-3, 2-2) will head back to the Division II-4A playoffs, where they advanced to the state quarterfinals just one year ago.
Midway is still in the hunt as well, however, and the Panthers would like nothing more than to avenge last year’s 60-10 drubbing and prevent Brownwood from reaching the postseason.
The Panthers can achieve that goal with a victory, but the margin required for Midway to move on will depend upon the outcome of the University-Killeen game.
If Midway defeats the Lions and Killeen (5-4, 1-3) topples University (2-7, 1-3), that would create a three-way tie between Midway, Brownwood and Killeen for third place. Midway would then advance regardless its margin of victory as it would have beaten both Brownwood and Killeen, Killeen would have earned a split and Brownwood would have lost to both teams.
With wins by Midway and University, the Lions could still advance to the playoffs if they fall by 10 points or less. Brownwood owns the maximum 18 points awarded in District 16-4A for a win after their 48-19 victory over University, while Midway is at a minus 4 in points due to its 35-31 loss to the Trojans.
An 11-point Midway win would give the Panthers plus 7 points and reduce the Lions to plus 7 points. Midway would then advance due to winning head-to-head.
University has played both teams and finished with minus 14 points, which means the Trojans cannot advance.
The Lions, however, are focusing only on the victory and not what other scenarios could send them to the postseason.
“Our approach with this ball game is pretty direct,” said Lions head coach Steve Freeman. “We have absolutely no thought process where we hope everything works out. We expect to take care of our business for the obvious reason of locking up a spot in the postseason, but also the mentality of using this to springboard us into Game 11 and beyond.”
After starting 4-0, the Lions have dropped three of their last five contests. The most glaring error in those losses having been turnovers.
Brownwood coughed up the ball a total of nine times against Waco High, Killeen and Abilene Cooper — three times in each game — which resulted in 38 points. In last week’s 34-14 loss to Waco High, two of Brownwood’s three turnovers resulted in touchdowns, while the other halted a drive deep in Waco High territory.
Freeman has stated throughout the season that playing error free ball is the key to success for the Lions, and that remains the case heading into the 10th game of the year.
“We know what we have to do,” Freeman said. “It was that way a long time ago and it’s that way for us now. If we don’t allow the big play, don’t turn the ball over and don’t hurt ourselves with penalties, we have a shot to play with anybody out there.
“We still know what we have to do to become a better team each and every week. From this point on, we have a playoff mentality that we expect will also come with a perfected mentality and a perfected performance.”
Though Brownwood has battled several nagging injuries over the last few weeks, Freeman proclaimed the Lions as healthy as they’ve been since the win over Copperas Cove.
“This will be our sixth war in a row starting back at the Abilene Cooper game,” Freeman said. “We limped through the second half of the Killeen game, all of the University game and we were somewhat better in the Waco High game last week. But fortunately for us, right now we’re as healthy as we’ve been since before the Killeen game. And this is a good time to be healthy.”
As far as Midway is concerned, the Lions — and possibly the Panthers themselves — aren’t sure which team will show up Friday. The Panthers gave Copperas Cove all it could handle in a 48-45 loss two weeks ago, then turned around and allowed University its first district win, 35-31.
Entering Friday’s game, the Panthers have scored 31 points per game in district contests, while allowing 33 points per 16-4A outing.
Midway’s offense has been sparked by the addition of running back John Hubert, who has rushed for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. Hubert is averaging 186 yards rushing per district game, with performances of 279 yards and four TDs against Killeen, 220 yards and four TDs against Cove and 193 yards and three TDs against University.
The Lions allowed 459 yards rushing last week, including 245 yards and four TDs to Jarrod Salubi.
“Hubert’s been a great asset to their scheme,” Freeman said. “He’s by far the best runner we’ve faced on the Midway teams in four years. He’s a definite factor and a play maker. They become more comfortable in their offense having a running back in place now.”
Hubert is not Midway’s only weapon, however. Quarterback Todd Glaesmann has returned from an early season injury and completed 25-of-62 passes for 328 yards, while rushing for 239 yards and three TDs. Corey Holmes has contributed five touchdown passes while completing 38-of-80 attempts for 661 yards.
The receiving corps is led by Trey Graham, who has 17 catches for 226 yards with one touchdown, and Brian Hannan, who has tallied 12 receptions for 136 yards with a score. Hubert also has 10 catches for 181 yards and a touchdown.
“Midway has never been without talent elsewhere and they’re certainly not without this year,” said Freeman of the Panthers’ offense. “They have a couple of receivers that can go. They flavor their offense a little like ours to an extent. They appear to have more of a sense confidence to spread the ball, especially with a successful run game added to the mix.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Brownwood is allowing 17.3 points and 288 yards per game — 162.3 rushing and 125.7 passing.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro has recorded 92 tackles, four interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Middle linebacker Jordan Longoria has chipped in 79 tackles, two picks and a pair of fumbles recoveries, including an 18-yarder he returned for a touchdown against Waco High.
Brownwood’s other leading tacklers are defensive tackles Grady Staton (77, 3 sacks) and Justin Ragsdale (75, 6 sacks), outside linebacker Mitchell Tharp (75, 3 sacks) and end David Fisher (67 tackles, 3.5 sacks). Linebacker Tracer Skelton is also coming off a 12-tackle performance, giving him 27 for the year.
The Lions offense heads into the game averaging 27.9 points, 201.6 yards rushing and 148.9 yards passing per outing.
Casey Pachall has completed 78-of-158 passes for 1,213 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He’s also rushed for 454 yards and three scores.
Corey Burr is inching closing to the 1,000-yard mark as he has 964 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on 134 carries. Zach Green has added 136 yards and two scores on 21 rushes.
Parker Taylor continues to lead Brownwood with 21 catches for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Jacob Allen — coming off a five-catch, 83-yard effort — has 13 receptions for 154 yards. Chris Munson has pulled down 11 receptions for 184 yards and a pair of TDs.
Despite allowing no less than 21 points in a district game this season, Freeman feels the Midway defense has made great strides compared to the unit the Lions faced last season.
“I think they’ve improved considerably from a year ago,” Freeman said. “Their people up front are playing better than what they were a year ago. They also have some talented defensive backs with good mobility. One thing about Midway, you can always go to a district track meet and see whose hanging around in the finals and they always make a very good showing.”