STEPHENVILLE — As lopsided as the final score and statistics were in the 69th edition of the “Battle of 377” — a 35-0 Stephenville Yellow Jackets’ victory — even worse news came out of the Brownwood Lions’ initial loss of the season, and first under head coach Bob Shipley.
When the Lions left Tarleton Memorial Stadium Friday night, the list of walking wounded included quarterback Graylon Brown, running back Stehl Ratliff and receiver Dillon Ellis, along with receivers Luke Chastain and Jaxon Shipley, who didn’t suit up Friday night.
“We’re a young football team and we came into a place that’s pretty tough to win at, they haven’t lost many here,” said Lions offensive coordinator Jeff Merket, who filled in for Shipley during the postgame interview. “Then to have starters go down during the game, it’s tough to overcome. We’ve got to learn to face adversity and rise to the challenge.”
Brown took a helmet to the knee on the first play of the second half, while Ellis suffered a shoulder injury later in the third period. Ratliff, who was nursing a knee injury, tweaked that same knee during the game.
“We’ll know more about them tomorrow,” Merket said. “We’ll get some X-rays tomorrow and find out, but hopefully they will be all right.
“Good and bad come out of injuries. You hate to see kids get hurt, but it’s good to see kids step up and get a week of practice under their belts and go out and compete. We’re looking for kids to step up and play for us.”
The Lions (2-1) struggled even before the injuries hit as Stephenville (1-2) snapped its season-opening two-game losing streak with a dominant effort.
The Yellow Jackets racked up 381 total yards against a Lion defense that was yielding just 273 yards and 15.5 points per contest.
James Myles rushed for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while catching four passes for 84 yards with another score. Quarterback Connor Washington completed 10-of-19 passes for 199 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
The Brownwood offense, meanwhile, mustered just 197 yards of total offense on 61 snaps — an average of 3.2 yards per play. The Lions finished with 118 yards rushing on 34 carries — most of which came late in the fourth period — while passing for 79 yards and completing only 11-of-27 attempts.
After going two games without a turnover, the Lions gave away the ball three times, which resulted in 14 Stephenville points.
“They’re very solid offensively and defensively,” said Merket, who served as a Stephenville assistant for 11 years under Art Briles. “They have a very good football team, and I wish them the best.”
The opening drives of the game mirrored the Lions’ first two outings of the season as Brownwood’s defense forced a punt after just five Stephenville snaps, while the Lion offense marched 50 yards in 14 plays to the Yellow Jacket 25. There, facing a 2nd-and-8, Brown was intercepted by Stephenville’s Keaton Trinkle for the Lions’ first turnover of the season.
Stephenville then traveled 70 yards in nine plays before Myles put the first points on the board with a 1-yard run at the 5:32 mark of the opening period.
A 15-yard reception by Charlie Riola and a 23-yard catch by Josh Rodriguez helped Stephenville advance deep into Lion territory.
Brownwood’s offense never regained its spark after the first turnover, though it did move to the Stephenville 31 and 29 later in the half.
A 33-yard reception by Cade Johnson, who caught a team-high three passes for 40 yards, moved the Lions to the Stephenville 35 midway through the second quarter. Brownwood, however, turned the ball over on downs when it failed to convert a 4th-and-6.
Stephenville responded by marching 69 yards in six plays before Washington hit Myles on a 32-yard swing pass, as he outran the Lion defense and found the end zone to stretch the Yellow Jacket lead to 14-0 with 4:26 in the half.
With 1:33 left in the first half, the Lions forced a turnover deep in Stephenville territory as Tyler Harth jarred the ball from Washington and Joseph Henry recovered at the 29. The turnover was the second forced by Brownwood, as Vance McShan picked off Washington in the end zone.
After the fumble recovery, Brownwood lost four yards on the first play, then suffered an illegal procedure call — one of seven penalties for 35 yards — followed by a pair of incompletions to spoil the opportunity.
In the second half, Stephenville took its second possession 58 yards in six plays before Washington hooked up with Stokes on a 30-yard scoring toss for a 21-0 lead.
Just 10 seconds later, the Yellow Jackets were back in the end zone as Holton Westbrook scooped up a fumble by Brownwood backup quarterback Mitch Stephens — who completed 2-for-5 passes for 17 yards and rushed for 15 yards on five carries — and raced 14 yards to make the score 28-0 with 5:25 left in the third period.
“We tried to move the ball and kept playing, but we were up against the wall,” said Merket of the Lion offense’s attempts to battle through the second half injuries. “That fumble return for a touchdown was a killer.”
Stephenville tacked on a final touchdown with 2:36 left in the third period as Myles sprinted into the end zone from 28 yards away.
The Lions will attempt to rebound next week as they host Liberty Hill, a 41-0 winner over Manor Friday night.