COPPERAS COVE — The Brownwood Lions reestablished themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Class 3A football ranks, but an uncharacteristic performance — and a few bad breaks — brought the 2009 campaign to an end Friday afternoon.
The Lions coughed up four turnovers, surrendered a kick return for a touchdown, squandered some momentum-changing opportunities and battled through a rash of injuries to the entire starting backfield as they fell to the Wimberley Texans, 24-17, at Bulldawg Stadium in the Class 3A Division II, Region I semifinals.
Brownwood’s inaugural season under head coach Bob Shipley resulted in the Lions’ first playoff appearance and deepest postseason run since 2006, along with their first district championship and 10-win campaign since 2003.
“When I came to Brownwood they told me we were 3-7 and most of the good players graduated,” Shipley said. “I’m really proud of the way these kids responded this year to our staff and what we were trying to do. They’re a great group of guys. They’re Brownwood Lions through and through. They never quit, never gave up and fought until the bitter end. I’m just really proud and these guys will always have a special place in my heart.”
Fight the Lions (10-3) did, even though they were hampered by injuries to starting running backs Stehl Ratliff and Derek Longoria — who combined for 315 yards rushing and five touchdowns last week — as well as quarterback Vance McShan, who still completed 21-of-36 passes for 230 yards. All three were on the receiving end of punishing blows from the much larger Texans in the first half, and effects from those shots lingered throughout the game.
The Lions finished with just 124 yards rushing, almost 70 yards below their average during their six-game win streak, which ended along with the season Friday.
“(The injuries) hurt our running game an awful lot,” Shipley said. “Stehl wasn’t at full strength and Derek was about half speed. Levi Perez came in and played great for us, but when your two workhorses are banged up and not at full speed, it sure hamstrings what you can do offensively.”
What hurt the Lions, more, however, were their four turnovers — all of which occurred in critical situations when it appeared Brownwood was on the verge of wrestling away the momentum.
Perhaps the most costly took place with 2:32 remaining after the Lions had trimmed a 14-point deficit to 24-17 on a 10-yard touchdown run by Ratliff.
The ensuing drive for Wimberley (9-4) began on its own 23, but Dennis Smith — the game’s leading rusher with 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries — was dragged down for a 13-yard loss by Tyler Harth on first down. The Texans were unable to generate a first down after that play and punted the ball back to the Lions.
“Overall I thought the defense played good,” said Shipley, whose team yielded 351 yards. “We gave up a couple of big plays in the second half, but we made the stops we needed to give us a chance to win, and that was really big for us.”
In just two plays Brownwood moved the ball to the Wimberley 30, thanks in part to a 10-yard toss from McShan to Jaxon Shipley — who caught a season-high 10 passes for 142 yards after finishing with one catch for six yards last week.
On the next play, however, an errant snap from center was recovered by Wimberley, halting the drive.
The Lions defense again forced a three-and-out and took over at their own 9 with 1:31 to go, but on the first play of that possession the ball was knocked loose from Dillon Ellis after an 8-yard reception. Wimberley recovered at the Brownwood 19 and was able to run out the clock.
“You have to take each one into consideration, but the four turnovers today were each costly,” Shipley said. “They stopped some drives, especially when we were going in late to try and tie or win the game. But those things happen. Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way and sometimes it does. Nobody meant to make those mistakes, but mistakes happened. We tried to overcome them, but we just weren’t able to today.”
Last week the Lions outscored Seminole 27-0 in the second half — ignited by a 52-yard touchdown run from Ratliff on the first snap of the third quarter — to rally for an area championship win.
Wimberley turned the tables Friday, however, as the Texans broke a 10-all halftime tie when Chase Brown returned the opening kick of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown as the Lions fell into a 17-10 hole just 13 seconds into the third period.
“There were a lot of momentum swings to this game, but our kids fought back,” Shipley said. “Obviously that was not the way we wanted to start the second half, and from that point on we were trying to dig ourselves out of a hole.”
The Lions were able to force one of their two turnovers in the second half as Logan Gough scooped up a fumble by Wimberley receiver Brennan Blakemore at the Brownwood 37. The Lions used a 24-yard completion to Cade Johnson and an 11-yard catch by Shipley to move to the Wimberley 24, but Brownwood missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.
Brownwood did not score its first second-half points until 5:33 remained as the Lions answered Wimberley’s six-play, 73-yard march that ended with a 6-yard run by Smith for a 24-10 lead. Wimberley’s touchdown drive started following another botched Brownwood snap after the Lions had reached the Texan 26.
The Lions traveled 80 yards in eight plays as Shipley caught passes of 32 and 15 yards and Wimberley committed two pass interference penalties before Ratliff scored on a 10-yard counter.
Brownwood opened the scoring as it took its first possession 60 yards in 11 plays before Ellis drilled a 31-yard field goal.
Wimberley knotted the score at 3-all with 10:12 left before halftime on a 32-yard Jared Kunz field goal. The drive began at the Brownwood 39 following the Lions’ first fumble of the contest.
The Lions regained a 10-3 advantage with 2:50 left in the first half as Perez scored on an 11-yard run, capping a six-play, 55-yard drive. Brownwood started near midfield after a partially blocked punt, and Luke Chastain hauled in a 29-yard reception the play prior to the touchdown.
Wimberley was able to pull even before halftime on a 3-yard Smith run with 42 seconds left in the second period. The key play of the 84-yard march occurred on third-and-10 from the Brownwood 46 as it appeared the Lions had wrapped up Brooks Blakemore on a drive-stopping sack. But the Texan quarterback escaped the grasp of a handful of Lions and scampered 10 yards to continue the drive.
“We had some guys wrapped up for losses that should have resulted in fourth-and-longs and punting situations, but we let them get out and make first downs and eventually go down and score,” Shipley said. “Those kinds of situations really hurt us in the first half.”
Wimberley will move on to face Graham (12-1) in the regional final next weekend.