ARLINGTON — Making their first state qualifying tournament appearance of the summer on Saturday, the Brownwood Lions racked up four victories — including a semifinal win over Class 3A Division I state champion Prosper — to earn their 10th straight trip to the 7-on-7 state tournament.
The Lions finished second at the Arlington Bowie Division II state qualifier, falling to the Celina Bobcats, 40-31, in the championship game. Brownwood erased a nine-point second-half deficit only to see the Bobcats tally the final 13 points. Both teams that reach the tournament final earn automatic berths to the Division II state tournament, which will take place July 9-10 in College Station.
“We’re thankful that we qualified for state, but we can’t be satisfied with being runner-up,” said Lions first-year head coach Bob Shipley, who was among the Brownwood supporters in attendance. “I thought the effort was really good today, especially since we were short some kids and we had a lot of kids playing both ways. Ultimately the heat and fatigue caught up to us, but it was just as hot for Celina. I think we found out you lose your focus sometimes when you get fatigued. We dropped some balls we should have caught for touchdowns, so we have to continue to work and try and get in good shape.”
To earn their spot in the tournament semifinals, the Lions — who suited up just 14 players — swept Pool A as they earned three victories by a combined score of 126-25. Brownwood opened pool play with a 53-13 win over Kaufman, followed by a 46-12 rout of Wills Point. The Lions closed pool play with a 27-0 decision over Whitney.
Offensively, the Lions scored on their first 13 possessions and 19 of 25 overall. Meanwhile, the defense yielded touchdowns on just four of 23 possessions, while forcing nine three-and-outs, making four stops when the opposition was facing first-and-goal and intercepting three passes.
Quarterback Graylon Brown completed 59-of-89 passes with 19 touchdowns and just one interception in pool play, while Jaxon Shipley hauled down 15 receptions, including seven for touchdowns. Vance McShan chipped in 11 catches and three scores, while Luke Chastain added 10 receptions and four touchdowns.
Also getting into the receiving act in pool play were Cade Johnson with nine catches and a touchdown; Chris Cotton and Levi Perez with four receptions and a touchdown each; Dillon Ellis with three catches and a score; Michael Ballejo with two receptions; and Zac Fulton caught a pass.
Defensively, Derek Longoria notched two interceptions, while Kevin Vaccaro also picked off a pass.
“I thought Graylon did a really good job overall,” Shipley said. “He had some times where he was inconsistent, but for the most part he led the offense very well. He had really nice touch on the ball and flamed it in there when he had to. I also thought the receivers did an excellent job catching the ball today.
“Defensively, in pool play we gave up 13, 12 and 0, so the defense played well for the most part. Then when we got into the semifinals and finals we started resting some guys and we had some guys out there that hadn’t played defense as much, but it was good experience for them.”
Prosper won Pool B — which also featured the Early Longhorns — to advance to its semifinal showdown with Brownwood. Early went 1-2 in pool play, dropping an overtime decision to Dallas First Baptist in in its first game before knocking off Crandall for its lone win.
In the Lions’ 35-25 semifinal victory over Prosper, Brownwood allowed just one second-half touchdown as it rallied from a 19-14 halftime deficit.
Brown, who completed 24-of-29 passes with five touchdowns against Prosper, connected with Jaxon Shipley, who grabbed six receptions, for the first touchdown of the second half, which put the Lions back in front, 21-19.
After Prosper scored to regain a 25-21 edge, the Lions answered with a 25-yard deep slant from Brown to Johnson that put Brownwood up for good, 29-25, following Shipley’s two-point conversion reception.
Prosper’s next drive stalled inside the 10 as the Lions prevented the Eagles from scoring despite having four attempts. Prosper also failed to find the end zone on its final drive after the Lions upped their advantage to 35-25 on a scoring toss from Brown to Chastain, who caught a team-high seven passes in the semifinal game.
In the championship game, the Lions again found themselves down at halftime, and Celina — which defeated archrival Pilot Point in the other semifinal — scored first in the second half to stretch its lead to 27-18.
Brown, who connected on 19-of-31 attempts with four TDs and an interception in the finale, hit Shipley for a touchdown to close the gap to 27-24.
Chastain then picked off a Celina pass — one of five Brownwood interceptions in five total games — and returned it for a touchdown to give the Lions a 31-27 edge.
But Celina answered with a go-ahead score to grab a 33-31 lead, and the Lions were stopped on their ensuing possession, which was followed by another scoring march from the Bobcats for the final 40-31 margin.
Ellis led the receiving corps with five catches and a pair of touchdowns in the finale, while Shipley also added five reception and a touchdown. McShan contributed four catches and a score.
The Lions will be back in action at the Tarleton Division I state qualifier next Saturday, before hosting their own Division II state qualifier on June 27. With Brownwood already guaranteed a spot at state, Shipley stated the Lions will change their approach — especially defensively — over the next two weeks.
“We’re going to continue to work more of our base coverage that we’ll run in the season and no so much a 7-on-7 coverage,” Shipley said. “At this point we obviously still want to win, but it’s not as important as us getting ready for the football season.”