With a string of 7-on-7 state tournament appearances almost a decade long, new experiences in College Station might be considered hard to come by for the Brownwood Lions. However, the Lions will make their debut in the 32-team Division II (Class A-3A) portion of the tournament on Thursday after spending eight years competing against considerably larger programs in Division I (Class 4A-5A).
The Lions were forced to decide which division to compete in as Brownwood earned a berth in both the large school and small school state tournament fields.
Brownwood first qualified for the Division I tournament by capturing the Lake Travis tournament June 7. Seven days later, the Lions secured a Division II spot by winning the Arlington Bowie qualifier.
“Based on where we’ll be playing in the fall, and what we could see playoff-wise, we felt like the 3A tournament was the place we needed to be,” said Lions 7-on-7 and offensive coordinator Mitch Moore. “At the start of the summer we had a mix of tournaments. We knew we had some small schools and big schools and we knew we were going to try and qualify to play at College Station. At that time we didn’t know what direction we would go.”
Due to its stellar reputation — according to 7-on-7 official records the Lions are making their ninth straight appearance at the state tournament dating to 2000 — Brownwood is considered one of the Division II favorites in College Station. The Lions aren’t fazed by the lofty predictions, however, and are approaching this tournament like any other.
“We’ll be up for the task at hand, but there’s no pressure. We don’t think like that,” Moore said. “We don’t have a problem with our kids in Brownwood when it’s time to go compete with something on the line. We’re going to go out and play as hard as we can. Our goal going into any tournament is to win it.”
The Lions are carrying a 14-2 summer record into the state tournament and have eclipsed the 30-point barrier in every game. Still, the ultimate goal for Brownwood continues to be showing improvement for the fall opposed to its win-loss record.
“It’s been a pretty good summer,” Moore said. “There’s a little different flavor playing against smaller schools, a newness we haven’t had the last few years. Each year we want to be competitive in 7-on-7 and try and qualify for state, but it’s not the biggest deal. It’s still a teaching tool for the fall and it’s been beneficial over the years. It also helps us stay competitive from week to week and working hard throughout the summer.”
The two blemishes on the Lions’ record have been by a combined seven points. Brownwood dropped a 43-42 semifinal game to Rockdale in Gatesville in its first 7-on-7 tournament of the summer. The Lions also were dealt a 38-32 loss at the hands of Weatherford — after locking up a state berth — in pool play of their own tournament on June 21.
Among the Lions’ 14 wins is a 35-27 triumph over Celina — the defending Division II 7-on-7 and Class 3A, Division II state champion — in the finals of the Bowie tournament.
Looking ahead to Thursday, the Lions will compete in Pool G with Bandera — which is making its fourth straight trip to College Station — and first-time qualifiers Jasper and Kirbyville — which dropped to Class 2A in February.
Brownwood opens with the Kirbyville Wildcats at 1 p.m. Thursday. Kirbyville, which qualified at the Diboll tournament, is coming off an 11-2 season and a Division II regional semifinals appearance as a Class 3A program. Kirbyville is ranked No. 13 in Class 2A by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine and is picked second in District 22-2A behind No. 9 Newton.
At 2 p.m., the Lions will tangle with the District 18-3A representative Jasper Bulldogs. Jasper, which qualified at the Hardin tournament, was 7-5 last season and a Division I regional semifinalist in Class 3A. The Bulldogs are projected to finish in third place behind Crockett and Palestine Westwood.
The Lions wrap up pool play at 3 p.m. against the Bandera Bulldogs. Bandera, which qualified on its home turf, is coming off a 6-6 regional finalist season in Division I. The Bulldogs are tabbed to be the runner-up in District 29-3A behind No. 19 Devine.
The biggest difference with the Division II tournament — aside from the number of teams in the field — is that pool play results have no impact. In the Division I field, the top two teams from each pool advance to the championship bracket, while all four teams in the Division II pools will be eligible to compete for the state title.
“Everybody goes to the championship bracket, so pool play is just like warm-up games,” Moore said. “You can drop two or three games in your pool and still have a chance to win the whole tournament the way it’s set up.”
Bracket play begins at 5 p.m. Thursday, and a victory in the first round of the single elimination tournament would mean the Lions would continue play at 9 a.m. Friday. The tournament championship game will be played at noon Friday at Kyle Field.
The rest of the tournament field includes Giddings, Paradise, Longview Spring Hill and Hitchcock in Pool A; Gatesville, Crockett, Houston Second Baptist and Lovejoy in Pool B; Diboll, Iraan, Prosper and Hardin in Pool C; Glen Rose, Wellington, Waco Reicher and Navasota in Pool D; Melissa, Carthage, Normangee and Rice Consolidated in Pool E; Santa Rosa, Marion, West and Childress in Pool F; and Rockdale, Celina, La Villa and Crane in Pool H.
Celina beat Crane, 28-21, in the first Division II final last year.
“Regardless of what happens we’re going to be competitive and play hard,” Moore said. “We’re going to win some and we’d like to win them all. We’ve never won it before, but it’s always been beneficial for us in the fall. I think this year it will be the same thing. Nothing will change.”