The Brownwood Lions’ 1-1 start to District 16-4A competition might not be a surprise to most followers of high school football. How the Lions achieved that mark, however, is another story.
After rallying from seven points down in the fourth quarter for a 17-10 road victory over state-ranked Copperas Cove, the Lions coughed up a seven-point halftime advantage last week and fell to unranked Killeen, 25-22.
Brownwood’s roller-coaster ride through the first two weeks of district might lead one to ponder which Lions (5-2, 1-1) team will make the trip to Waco ISD Stadium Friday for a 7:30 p.m. contest against the University Trojans (1-6, 0-1).
“The last two weeks have surely been interesting weeks with our football team,” said Lions head coach Steve Freeman. “It’s odd how the approach to something good may also be the approach to something that’s not good.
“We handled the first district win in a great way and we were careful not to overreact to a big positive. We followed that up with a loss in the second district game with the circumstances of our own self-inflicted mistakes. But we’ve handled this week in the same sense as last week in that you have to be careful you don’t overreact to the negative.”
The Lions, who have dropped two of their last three games, turned the ball over three times, committed six penalties for 59 yards and had some uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns that resulted in a season-high four touchdowns and 327 yards allowed to Killeen.
Freeman has stated throughout the season that if Brownwood doesn’t allow the big play, doesn’t turn the ball over and doesn’t commit an inordinate amount of penalties, the Lions can defeat any team on its schedule. The opposite also proved to be true last week, and eliminating mistakes will be the key to a turnaround against University.
“There were no hidden factors against Killeen,” Freeman said. “We had some mistakes that cost us a ball game. Oddly enough, games against two out of the three toughest opponents up to this point have resulted in us beating us. We’re still in the process of becoming who we’re going to be as a football team. But those elements that cost us last week have to absolutely disappear, and way sooner than later. The calendar, as far as the regular season is concerned, is starting to get short.”
Despite last week’s loss, the Lions still control their own destiny when it comes to winning a piece of the District 16-4A championship and claiming the top seed in the Division II playoffs. The easiest way for Brownwood to achieve that goal is to win its final three games against University, Waco High and Midway, but Freeman and company aren’t looking past this Friday night.
“I’ve addressed in a nutshell the mathematics of where we are with our kids,” Freeman said. “Our intent is no different and our opportunity is no different, but it still goes through Waco University this week. Out of the six members of 16-4A, the win-loss column right now would indicate that Waco University is the weaker link of the district. But it’d be foolish at this point to get caught up in something that’s out of the month of October. We’ll worry about November when it gets here, and that’s next week. We know the district crown is still on the shelf for our taking.”
University enters Friday’s contest with a five-game losing streak and the Trojans have dropped 15 of their last 17 contests overall. But Freeman and company haven’t forgotten the 2004 and 2005 seasons, where the Lions and Trojans tangled in the regular season finale each year to determine the district’s final playoff qualifier.
“They’re not that far removed from being in the mix,” Freeman said. “If I’m coaching at Waco University, then there’s three ball games left in the 16-4A race and I’m going to believe that our postseason is still alive. That’s how we’ve got to see it. We always try to think about what they’re thinking in the opponent’s camp. It’s got to be that way.”
The Trojans are coming off district losses of 47-7 to No. 4 Waco High and 48-21 to No. 7 Copperas Cove. For the year, University is averaging just 16 points per game while allowing 38.7.
University’s offense is led by quarterback Randy Price, who has completed 83-of-177 passes for 932 yards — third most in the district — with nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Price has also rushed for 193 yards and a score.
The ground attack is spearheaded by Marquise Hughes, who has chalked up 580 yards and five touchdowns, while catching 17 passes for 216 yards and a pair of scores. Fullback Darius Erwin has added 257 yards rushing.
Demarcus Hicks and Vencent Finley are among the top receivers in 16-4A. Hicks has grabbed 25 receptions for 210 yards with a pair of touchdowns, while Finley has pulled down 24 catches for 338 yards with four scores.
“We believe they’re going to put it all on the line Friday night and we’re accustomed to getting the best shot from whoever we play,” Freeman said. “Their running back, we believe he’s probably in the top three in the district. Their quarterback has put the ball in the air a bunch of times and they have a couple of receivers at the top of the listings in the 16-4A stats.”
Despite coming off their worst performance of the season, the Lions defense is still allowing just 14.7 points and 254.9 yards per game with 16 turnovers forced. Opponents are rushing for 141 yards per game and passing for just 113.9.
Brownwood’s defense is led by safety Kenny Vaccaro’s 68 tackles and seven turnovers — four interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Linebackers Jordan Longoria and Mitchell Tharp have chipped in 64 and 61 tackles, respectively. Defensive linemen Grady Staton (58 tackles), Justin Ragsdale (56 tackles) and David Fisher (51 tackles) have combined for 13.5 of the Lions’ 14.5 sacks.
On the offensive side of the ball, Brownwood is putting up 27 points and 360.6 total yards — 212.6 rushing and 148 passing — per game.
Casey Pachall has completed 65-of-128 passes for 1,028 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. He’s also rushed for 448 yards and three scores.
Corey Burr leads the rushing attack with 819 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Zach Green is emerging as a viable complement after running for his first touchdown last week.
Parker Taylor, who grabbed his second touchdown of the year last week, leads all receivers with 18 receptions for 295 yards. Chris Munson has 10 catches for 168 yards, including last week’s 59-yard touchdown catch. Jarrod Howey has chipped in seven receptions for 101 yards, with five coming in the last two games.
Still, the greatest concern for the Lions this week remains eliminating the mistakes in all phases of the game that could put their postseason chances in jeopardy.
“We’ve got 22 players on the field and only one of those 22 players can have ball in his hands, so there’s a pretty significant spotlight when somebody is involved with a turnover,” Freeman said. “But it’s absolutely insane to isolate only one thing and think that’s all we need to get corrected. We’ve played good special teams, our defense has played its tail off, but even with that we’ve got mistakes in those areas we have to get corrected if we expect to win big games against big-time opponents.”