Though their path to the playoffs is very clear with one regular-season game remaining, the Brownwood Lions’ quest for their 27th district championship will have to wait at least another season.
Facing the fourth-ranked team in the state with a share of the 16-4A lead — and a potential piece of the district championship — on the line, the Lions fell to the Waco High Lions for the third time in 12 months, 34-14, Friday at Gordon Wood Stadium.
The loss was the third straight at home for Brownwood (6-3, 2-2), which could have moved into a three-way tie for first place with Waco High (8-1, 4-0) and No. 7 Copperas Cove had it been victorious. Instead, Waco High clinched a share of the 16-4A title with the win, and can capture its second district championship outright with a victory next week over Copperas Cove — which knocked off Killeen, 33-10, Friday night.
Despite the setback, the Lions’ road to the playoffs is simple. A win at Midway — which lost to University, 35-31, Friday — clinches the second seed in Division II from 16-4A for Brownwood. A loss, however, would create a three-way tie for third place between Brownwood, Midway and the winner of the Killeen-University game, which would then be decided in a points tiebreaker.
“As soon as the clock ran out I turned around and told the coaches and players it’s about Midway right now,” said Lions head coach Steve Freeman. “There’s no use crying or being dejected because we don’t have time for it.”
Waco High’s Jarred Salubi rushed for 245 yards and four touchdowns as the visiting Lions finished with 459 yards rushing on 58 carries. Bronshae Dugas added 99 yards rushing and a score on 13 carries.
“Salubi was very much the difference maker tonight,” Freeman said. “Getting people to the ball is one thing, but with a kid like Salubi, the cut backs happen so fast. You would think he would come back to where the play originated, but that’s not the case with him.”
Brownwood quarterback Casey Pachall completed 13-of-30 attempts for 185 of the Lions’ 211 yards passing, but left the game with 9:56 remaining after apparently aggravating the ankle injury that kept him out of last week’s win over University.
Waco High’s defense limited the Lions to 1 yard rushing as a team, sparked by seven second-half sacks of Brownwood quarterbacks. Brownwood also turned the ball over three times, which resulted in 14 Waco High points.
“In ball games such as this, we have no room for error,” Freeman said. “We’ve got to be errorless in these types of games. We also have to count on us taking care of our business and then capitalize on other people’s mistakes.”
Trailing just 21-14 at the half, Brownwood allowed Waco High to score twice in its first four plays of the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
On Waco High’s second snap of the second half, Salubi raced for a 64-yard touchdown to give Waco High a 28-14 lead just 1:03 into the third period.
Brownwood’s ensuing drive ended with a Corey Burr fumble on the second play, which was scooped up by Waco High’s Ladedrek Williams on the Lion 16. Salubi ran for 14 yards on the first play, then finished the drive with a 2-yard touchdown at the 9:39 mark of the third period.
Neither team scored the rest of the game, though Brownwood had a pair of opportunities to do so.
After advancing to the Waco High 33, Brownwood saw a late third-quarter drive end when Peter Smith picked off a Pachall pass at the 17.
The Lions’ next possession was a 56-yard, 13-play drive down to the Waco High 1, which ended with Burr being stuffed on fourth-and-goal. Waco High recorded three sacks on the drive, but shot itself in the foot with a roughing the passer penalty and an offsides call that both extended the Lions’ drive.
Waco High opened the scoring on its second possession of the game, moving 65 yards in seven plays. Salubi scored on a 7-yard run at the 5:08 mark of the first period to give the visiting Lions a 7-0 edge.
Brownwood’s ensuing drive reached the Waco 18 before stalling. Jarrod Howey was called on to attempt a 35-yard field goal, which was blocked.
Waco High took over on its own 1 — after Terrance Adkism fumbled the blocked kicked out of bounds — and sprinted to the Brownwood 10 in just six plays, highlighted by a 49-yard Salubi scamper.
But the Brownwood defense held as Jason Maldonado picked off an errant fade pass by Waco High quarterback Clarence Willis in the end zone.
The Lions’ second forced turnover resulted in Brownwood’s first points and tied the game at 7-all.
A third-and-three option pitch by Willis was batted down by linebacker Jordan Longoria, who then picked up the bouncing ball at the Waco High 18 and ran it back for a touchdown with 11:16 left in the first half.
Waco High responded in just six plays to retake the lead, 14-7. Following runs of 30 yards by Dugas and 24 yards by Salubi, the drive was capped by a 3-yard Salubi run with 8:03 left in the half.
The lead grew to 21-7 following Waco High’s next drive, an eight-play, 64-yard march that ended with 3:42 left in the second period. Dugas’ 15-yard scamper culminated the drive.
Brownwood took the momentum into the locker room at halftime, however, as it used to an eight-play, 70-yard drive to cut the deficit to 21-14. A 34-yard pass from Pachall to Jacob Allen — who finished with a season-high five catches for 83 yards — set up Burr for a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:13 left in the half.
The Lions also got a break on Waco High’s first play of its next possession as Salubi broke free for an 80-yard touchdown, but the play was negated by a holding penalty, one of eight for 75 yards by the visiting Lions.
But Waco High quickly recaptured the momentum with its 13-point surge in the first 2:21 of the second half.