The Brownwood Lions returned to postseason play in grand fashion with last week’s resounding 33-7 bi-district victory over Dalhart. The Lions, who have reeled off five straight victories, are now eyeing back-to-back playoff wins for the first time since Brownwood advanced four rounds deep into the postseason in 2006.
Standing in Brownwood’s way are the Seminole Indians, who themselves notched an impressive 55-7 bi-district win over Clint last week. Kickoff for the Class 3A Division II, Region I area playoff between the Lions (9-2) and Indians (8-3) is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday at San Angelo Stadium.
The Lions were able to impose their will upon Dalhart last week, but Brownwood first-year head coach Bob Shipley expects a tougher fight out of Seminole.
“Seminole reminds us of Snyder in terms of how hard they play,” Shipley said. “The difference is they’re better offensively than Snyder, and bigger up front. And they’re a lot more athletic and more physical than Dalhart. They’re one of those teams you watch and admire as a head coach for playing that hard.”
Seminole’s offense could provide the Lions with one of their most daunting challenges of the season. The Brownwood defense, however, has played some of its best ball during the Lions’ current win streak.
In the last five games, the Lions have given up just 227.2 yards per contest, with 127 yards churned out on the ground and 100.2 yards coming through the air. Opponents are averaging just 4.4 yards per play and 9.6 points per contest, while turning the ball over 11 times.
For the entire season, the Lions yield 16.5 points and 261.4 yards — 141.8 rushing and 199.6 passing — per game, with 63 tackles for loss, 32 sacks and 20 turnovers forced.
Seven of Brownwood’s eight leading tacklers are positioned in the front seven, an indication of how well the Lions have denied their opponents big gains.
Leading the charge for the Lions are Joseph Henry (93 tackles, nine for loss, four sacks, three fumble recoveries), Caden Ellis (93 tackles, three sacks, two fumble recoveries), Levi Westerman (85 tackles, 12 for loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries), Jorge De La Paz (83 tackles, eight for loss, three sacks), Payton Christopher (81 tackles, five pass break ups), Derek Longoria (78 tackles, three interceptions, fumble recovery), Rey Arriaga (61 tackles, three sacks) and Tyler Harth (59 tackles, 11 sacks, five forced fumbles).
Seminole counters with an offense that has produced 321.5 total yards — 192.2 rushing and 128.3 passing — and 31.3 points per game, while averaging 54 points over its last two contests. In last week’s 48-point win over Clint, the Indians finished with 454 total yards — 264 passing and 190 rushing — but did turn the ball over four times.
“They’re a spread team that likes to run it,” Shipley said. “They use a lot of misdirection with their spread. We call that the scat, where they put an inside receiver in motion and have them come across right when the ball is snapped. They’re either giving it to him or faking it to him and running the quarterback on a counter through the line or handing it to the back. They also have play-action passes and screens off that.”
Seminole’s performance last week was headlined by quarterback Michael Navarro — who completed 10-of-17 passes for 264 yards with four touchdowns and a 15-yard TD run — and receiver Jarod Adams — who caught six passes for 215 yards with TD receptions of 21, 75, 65 and 32 yards, along with a 75-yard kick return for six points.
“They’ll throw it down the field a little bit,” Shipley said. “Adams is really good and we’ll definitely have to do a great job covering him and denying him the football. Typically when they’re throwing the ball, they’re throwing the fast screens out to the receivers. We haven’t seen a team do that as well as they do since Burnet in the first game, and they were very effective against us.”
Other weapons for the Indians include running backs Tevyn Reed (101-676, six TDs) and Chago Gomez (62-453, three TDs), along with receiver Ricky Gillespie (30-439, four TDs). Tanner Moore (35-of-68, 430 yards, four TDs, four interceptions) and Adams (29-of-58, 399 yards, four TDs) have also spent time at quarterback.
“We’re going to have to play really disciplined defense Friday night,” Shipley said. “Each kid is going to have to take care of his own responsibility and not get caught up in watching the ball.”
On the flip side, Seminole gives up just 214.8 total yards — 129.5 rushing and 85.4 passing — and 13.6 points per game, and the Indians have not allowed more than 14 points in a game since Oct. 9.
“They play soft, kind of a bend but don’t break defense,” said Lions offensive coordinator Jeff Merket. “They have a lot of speed and try and rally to the ball and limit big gains. They’re probably better at stopping the pass. They commit more guys to the pass than they do to the run.”
That doesn’t mean the Lions will focus more on the run this week, though the ground game has been on a roll as of late.
Heading into Friday’s game, the Lions are averaging 148 yards on the ground per contest, led by Stehl Ratliff (123-799, 13 TDs), Levi Perez (64-308, TD) and Longoria (50-229, 5 TDs).
“The running game opens up so much if you can have success,” Merket said. “It makes it easier for the linemen to pass block and the receivers to get open, so running the ball is something we want and need to be able to do.”
Brownwood’s passing game, meanwhile, continues to thrive as the Lions average 231.7 yards through the air each game, led by quarterback Vance McShan (101-of-156, 1,400 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions).
McShan and Jaxon Shipley (44-784, 9 TDs) connected on a season-long 86-yard touchdown pass against Dalhart, while other receiving threats include Dillon Ellis (34-529, 2 TDs), Luke Chastain (24-357, 3 TDs), Cade Johnson (24-329, 2 TDs) and Ratliff (22-207, TD).
As well as the Lions have moved the ball, Shipley would like to see the offense keep a better grip on the pigskin this week.
“We need to continue to keep our turnovers at a minimum,” Shipley said. “We’ve been having some trouble with our receivers fumbling down the field and luckily we had an offensive lineman jump on one last week.
“We also have to make good decisions throwing the ball. We threw it in a crowd sometimes last week and Vance will have to continue to get better at that. But Vance and the whole team have had a great week of practice, and that’s always a good sign for us.”
Shipley would also like to see the special teams shored up after a blocked extra point last week.
“We have to do a better job with our extra point and field goal protection and our punt protection,” Shipley said. “We’ve worked on that this week, but we have to do a better job in the game and not become lackadaisical. Obviously that can cost you in a close game.”
Brownwood and Seminole share one common opponent in Sweetwater. The Indians defeated the Mustangs, 20-14 in overtime, on Sept. 4, while the Lions blanked Sweetwater, 42-0, on Oct. 30. The Indians’ other losses came against undefeated Monahans, 42-14, on Oct. 9 and at 4A Canyon, 41-23, on Oct. 2.
Friday’s winner will face either Wimberley (7-4) or Iowa Park (5-5) — who square off at Gordon Wood Stadium Friday night — in the Class 3A Division II, Region I semifinals next weekend.