GATESVILLE — The Brownwood Lions’ road to a potential 10th consecutive 7-on-7 state tournament appearance will have to be the same route they’ve traveled the previous nine summers — by way of a Class 4A/5A state qualifier.
The Rockdale Tigers converted a two-point conversion after time had expired to upend the Lions, 43-42, in the semifinals of the Gatesville 3A/2A/A state qualifier Saturday. The loss prevented Brownwood from earning a berth in the small school tournament, which will be held July 10-11 at College Station. With a 40-32 win over Marlin in the other semifinal game, host Gatesville earned the second state bid from the qualifier.
The Lions still have three opportunities — Saturday at Lake Travis, June 14 at Abilene and June 21 at home — to qualify for the traditional large school tournament, which will be held July 11-12 on the campus of Texas A&M.
Saturday’s ending — which did not come without controversy — spoiled what had been an impressive start to the summer for the Lions.
Tied with Rockdale at 14 at intermission, the Lions led throughout the majority of the second half, though the Tigers answered every Brownwood touchdown.
With just under two minutes to play, it appeared as though the Lions had made their first defensive stop of the second half. However, a disagreement between the referees — over what the official down was — allowed Rockdale another chance to convert a first down. The Tigers did so, and three plays later scored on the final snap of regulation to cut Brownwood’s lead to 42-41.
“The last two officials weren’t very good communicators and they had some confusion on what down it was,” said Lions 7-on-7 coordinator and offensive coordinator Mitch Moore. “(Rockdale) might have gotten an extra down.”
With no time left, Rockdale opted to play for the win. A fade route to the back corner of the end zone fell between a pair of Lion defenders and into the waiting arms of a Tiger receiver, who tight roped the sideline to complete the catch.
“They chose to go for the win instead of playing for the overtime,” Moore said. “They threw it up, we had two kids there, but their guy made a good play and drug his feet and caught it in the corner.”
Despite the final outcome, the Lions couldn’t have asked for much more from the offense. The Lions scored on 24 of their 30 possessions (80 percent) and averaged 43.3 points in four games.
Quarterback Casey Pachall was sharp all day, completing 84 percent of his pass attempts (98-of-116) with 24 touchdowns and only one interception.
Pachall distributed the ball to nine different receivers, with Parker Taylor leading the way with 29 receptions and five touchdowns. Travis Holleman added 23 catches and three scores, Shelby Miller hauled in 19 passes and seven TDs and Kenny Vaccaro pulled down 11 receptions and six touchdowns.
Varsity newcomers who made an impact at receiver included Luke Chastain with five catches and two scores, Hayden Hewitt with five receptions and a touchdown, Cade Johnson and Zac Fulton with three receptions apiece and Tyler Kemp caught a pass as well.
“We moved the ball well,” Moore said. “Casey did a good job spreading the ball and we got a lot of people involved. I didn’t see a whole lot of drops. We had some guys make some good catches and the ball wasn’t on the ground too many times today. There also weren’t very many times where we didn’t convert.”
Defensively, the Lions played two stellar games but also had two shaky efforts. With only two starters returning from last year’s varsity defense, inconsistency is to be expected at this juncture.
Brownwood surrendered touchdowns on just 14 of its opponents’ 31 possessions (45 percent) and recorded 10 interceptions and a rare safety. But the Lions also proved vulnerable to the deep ball, which Rockdale exploited in the semifinals and Waco Reicher had success with early in Brownwood’s 47-32 tournament-opening victory.
“Defensively, we’ve got to work some things out,” Moore said. “We’ve got some new faces that are doing some new things. They may need a little time to get a feel for each other, get comfortable and know what each other is going to do.”
The brightest spot for the Lions defense came in their second pool game, a 37-8 win over Burnet, which will be Brownwood’s season-opening foe Aug. 30 in the Alamodome. Brownwood did not allow Burnet to score on its first seven possessions, and the only blemish against the Lions was a fourth-and-3 touchdown with 20 seconds left on the clock.
Vaccaro intercepted two passes — returning one for a touchdown — and Taylor Chesser added another pick. On the first snap of the second half, Payton Ragsdale scooped up a loose ball and trotted to the end zone following a 2-yard Burnet pass that featured a pair of laterals. Instead of the play being ruled a touchdown, the Lions were credited with a safety, which made the score 30-0.
Offensively, the Lions had their toughest outing against Burnet as Pachall finished 18-of-28 with four touchdowns and his lone interception. Brownwood also was stopped on consecutive possessions for the only time Saturday, but that came after the Lions opened their 30-point cushion.
Taylor and Miller led the Lions with five catches and one touchdown apiece, while both of Vaccaro’s receptions landed him in the end zone.
In the opener against Reicher, Pachall went 24-of-27 with seven touchdowns as Brownwood scored on every possession. Miller grabbed three touchdown tosses while Taylor chalked up eight catches and two scores.
Defensively, Ragsdale tallied the first interception of the day in the end zone following a deflection by Chesser.
Needing to defeat Prosper to advance to the semifinals, the Lions rolled to a 47-14 victory. Defensively, the Lions did not allow a point in the second half and the last three Prosper drives ended in interceptions. Picking off the passes were Rashad Deal, Derek Longoria and Chastain.
Pachall completed 31-of-35 attempts, including a string of 18 straight at one point. Vaccaro grabbed three touchdown receptions and Taylor had a tournament-high nine-catch effort with a pair of touchdowns.
In the semifinals, the Lions faced their first deficit as Rockdale scored on its opening possession. Brownwood then answered as Holleman caught a short scoring toss from Pachall — who threw six touchdowns and completed 25-of-26 pass attempts, including his final 20 in a row. Graylon Brown’s interception then set up Pachall’s touchdown pass to Vaccaro, which gave Brownwood a 14-7 lead.
The Lions held on to a 21-20 edge after Rockdale’s third touchdown as Tanner Vaughn picked off the extra-point attempt. The Tigers, however, drew even at 28-all and later converted a second two-pointer to quash the Lions’ small school state tournament hopes.
Brownwood, which missed a chance to qualify for state in its first tournament for the fourth time in five years, will head to Lake Travis Saturday. Last summer, the Lions needed three tries to earn a state berth, which is something they hope to remedy.
“We competed hard and looked pretty good for the first outing,” Moore said. “We want to keep the offensive momentum and get those little things ironed out on defense. We’ll get ready to go again this week.”