HEWITT - With just 34 varsity players in uniform, several of the Brownwood Lions were forced to shoulder a heavier workload than in seasons past. Still, head coach Steve Freeman was content with the effort and intensity displayed during Saturday’s scrimmage with the Midway Panthers - and the execution wasn’t too shabby, either.
The Lions chalked up three touchdowns while holding Midway to one in 80 minutes of controlled scrimmage action, followed by two live 10-minute quarters at Panther Stadium.
“Early on, our effort was pretty good,” Freeman said. “I thought things kind of stalled a bit on both sides in the quarters. We had some kids that were taking a whole lot of reps. We had a few that may have had just one series out in the two hours and 15 minutes we were going. That’s going to be a way of life for us, though, and we’re going to have to be smart and play smart.”
Despite some fatigue, the Lions were sharper in several aspects compared to their former District 16-4A rival.
Brownwood’s first-team offense scored a touchdown, while Midway’s didn’t, and the Lions’ second-team offense found the end zone twice compared to the Panthers’ lone score.
But the day belonged to the Lions’ new-look defense, which forced four turnovers. Despite returning only two starters from last year’s squad, the Lions were able to keep Midway at bay most of the afternoon.
Defensive starters for the scrimmage were Jaron Wilson, Jorge De La Paz and Billy Allen across the front; Bubby Harrell, Tracer Skelton, Ryan Elliott and Joseph Bates at linebacker; and Hayden Hewitt, Tanner Vaughn, Payton Ragsdale and Kenny Vaccaro in the secondary.
In November, the Panthers - led by tailback John Hubert’s 213 yards rushing and four touchdowns - scored 36 points against Brownwood to eliminate the Lions from postseason contention.
Saturday, Hubert reeled off a 45-yard run on the ninth play of action, but did not have another carry over 10 yards. No other Panther plays exceeded 20 yards.
“The running back from Midway is pretty good and we were able to keep him in check for the day and didn’t give up any huge plays,” Freeman said. “For the first day out, it surely wasn’t a perfected show, but I’d be scared if it had been. We’re going to be fine.”
The Lions’ first- and second-team defensive units created two turnovers apiece.
During the Midway first-team offense’s 20 minutes of plays, Ragsdale scooped up a Panther fumble. The Panthers’ second-team offense then turned the ball over when a group sack resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Derek Longoria, while Michael Gonzalez later pounced on another loose ball.
Late in the second live quarter, Hewitt stepped in front of a slant and intercepted the pass at the Midway 20, but time expired before the Lions’ offense was able to take advantage of the break.
Offensively, the Lions’ passing game accounted for most of the yardage as starting quarterback Casey Pachall completed 10-of-23 passes for 148 yards, and also rushed for 35 yards on four carries.
Parker Taylor caught a team-high five passes for 99 yards - including a 40-yarder - to lead the first-teamers, followed by Shelby Miller’s two catches for 29 yards, Travis Holleman’s two receptions for 11 yards and Harrell caught a 7-yarder.
When the Lions’ second-team offense took the field, the biggest highlight of the day came on the first snap. Graylon Brown hooked up with Vaughn for a 70-yard scoring strike, and later found Tyler Kemp on a 10-yard toss for the final Lions’ touchdown.
The running game experienced its ups and downs as the Lions scored one touchdown on the ground on a Vaccaro 11-yard sprint, which was set up by the wall of starting offensive linemen Stavion Lowe, Francisco Castaneda, Daniel Nguyen, Gonzalez and Skelton.
Brownwood’s first-team offense tallied just 38 yards rushing on 12 carries, however, and on non-Pachall scrambles, the Lions totaled only 3 yards on eight attempts.
“Offensively, our ability to run the ball is still in front of us,” Freeman said. “We didn’t run it much today. I don’t know what our attempts were, but we weren’t getting much of a push up front.
“For the most part, pass protection was decent and the spread stuff was decent. We didn’t mix it up too much, just a little bit of play action. We have to be able to get the running game going, and when that goes then it opens up the play action.”
The Lions also were flagged for more penalties than Freeman cared to see Saturday, which will become an area of increased focus.
“We’re going to try and concentrate on no pre-snap and post-play penalties,” Freeman said. “We had two or three post-plays and that may happen. Intensity is one thing, not being smart is a whole different deal.”
Following their third week of preseason practices, the Lions will host San Angelo Central Friday in their final scrimmage before the Aug. 30 season opener against Burnet at the Alamodome.
“These last two weeks we’re going to concentrate on us and our fundamentals,” Freeman said. “From this point going into San Angelo Central, playing hard will be the No. 1 thing throughout, but against Central, we want to see a little more pop and a more physical aspect.”