Enjoying their first 3-0 start since 2003, the No. 8 Brownwood Lions have experienced several early season positives. A 13-day break between games has given the Lions the opportunity to work on the little things they hope to perfect prior to what should be another hectic District 16-4A race.

Brownwood’s first chance to display its improvements comes at 7:30 p.m. tonight at San Angelo Stadium where an eager Lions squad faces the Lake View Chiefs (1-3).

“It’s our first experience with a Thursday night game, but it’s come at a good time following the open week,” said Lions head coach Steve Freeman. “We feel like it’s really playing into our hands right now. We’ve made it relative to the Thanksgiving weekend where we always try to opt for the Friday game instead of the Saturday game just to get it there a little quicker. We’re ready to get on the field.”

Though still not of the caliber as most of the opponents on the Lions’ schedule, the Lake View Chiefs have shown marked improvement in their second season under head coach Tim Reid, a Brownwood product.

The Chiefs — who returned eight offensive and seven defensive starters from last year’s team — won their opener, 16-7 over Del Rio, giving them one more win than they had during the entire 2006 campaign. Lake View followed with losses of 22-15 to Fort Stockton, 38-13 to Kerrville Tivy and 35-28 to Midland Greenwood.

“There was a lot of newness there last year,” Freeman said. “They’ve got more continuity staff-wise and that alone brings a whole different progressive measure. They also have some kids back that they’ve already been around the block with a time or two.”

Among the key returnees for the Chiefs is quarterback John David Baker, who leads the team in passing and is second in rushing. Baker is 55-of-113 for 623 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also rushed for 259 yards and a team-high three touchdowns on 47 carries.

Tay Williams leads the Chiefs with 295 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns, while Chase Welch has caught 15 passes for 219 yards. Chiefs with touchdown receptions include Williams, Paul Mesta, Rodney Akers, Garrett Gunter and Michael Williams.

Freeman and company expect to see multiple sets out of the Lake View offense, but nothing they haven’t faced at some point this season.

“They’ll bring multiple things, a little bit of flavor of the things that we’ve seen,” Freeman said. “Our thought process is we’ve seen variations of Wylie’s run/pass schemes, Sweetwater’s veer scheme, Burnet’s multiple run/throw schemes and going all the way back to Wichita Falls, who had a full-blown spread offense. I’d like to think that we’re well-suited right now for whatever someone brings to the table.”

Through the first three games of the season, the Lions defense has stolen the show. Brownwood is coming off a 12-9 win over Burnet in which the defense did not allow a touchdown. For the year, the Lions are allowing just 12.3 points, 139.7 yards rushing and 86.3 yards passing per contest, while forcing six turnovers.

A half-dozen Lions have collected at least 20 tackles, led by 25 each from outside linebacker Mitchell Tharp and defensive tackles Grady Staton and Justin Ragsdale. Those three Lions have also combined for eight sacks, with Ragsdale recording a team-high four.

Safety Kenny Vaccaro and middle linebacker Jordan Longoria have tallied 23 tackles each, while defensive end David Fisher has 21 takedowns and 2.5 sacks.

“We’ve been extremely pleased with the overall picture defensively,” Freeman said. “We’ve been extremely solid at some much-needed times. We expect to continue our improvement and for our kids to be technicians at their positions. We’re constant on our teaching and re-teaching of trying to perfect perfection in every phase of the game.”

Offensively, the Lions are producing an average of 31.6 points per game, but Brownwood has missed out on several opportunities to add to its season tally. Through three games, the Lions have had 10 drives advance inside their opponents’ 30-yard line that did not result in points.

“We keep on preaching the same sermon essentially,” Freeman said. “When we have red zone opportunities, we have to put it in the end zone. We don’t need to just reduce turnovers down there, we need to eliminate turnovers. We’re going to be in ball games down the road where it’s essential that every snap is a productive snap.”

Aside from a few missed chances, the Lions’ offensive numbers have been stellar.

Behind a starting offensive line of Stavion Lowe, Dusty Crelia, Luke Butler, Justin Ward and Jake Senkirik, the Lions are averaging 271.3 yards rushing per game. Brownwood is led by running back Corey Burr’s 384 yards and seven touchdowns on 49 carries, while quarterback Casey Pachall has added 259 yards and a touchdown on 35 rushes.

Through the air, Brownwood is picking up an average of 144.3 yards per game. Pachall has completed 30-of-55 passes for 433 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Parker Taylor has grabbed a team-high 10 receptions for 149 yards with a touchdown, followed by Burr’s seven catches for 85 yards and a score and Chris Munson’s five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown.

What type of defense Lake View — which is giving up 357.3 yards of total offense per game, but has forced nine turnovers — throws at the Lions might not be known until the game begins, as was the case in last year’s 52-7 Brownwood victory.

“A year ago in this game, Lake View bailed out completely of a defensive scheme they’d been involved in for four straight weeks,” Freeman said. “When we made our first snap, we were making quick adjustments because they had done a total 180-degree turn.”

Darius Flowers is Lake View’s leader in tackles with 29 and two fumble recoveries. Other Chiefs recording double figures in tackles are Johnny Harris (19.5), Tay Williams (18), Ethan Reid (15.5), T.J. Campbell (12.5) and Gunter (12).

Another area where Freeman and company would like to see improvement is special teams play. The Lions have missed a handful of field goal and extra-point attempts, bobbled both kick and punt returns and had a punt blocked thus far.

“Probably the most solid we’ve been has been on our kickoffs and kick coverage,” Freeman said. “We’ve had botches in punt protection, punt return and kickoff return. Some of those situations have been obvious turning points of that part of the game.

“We have to take that aspect to a whole different level. The kicking game normally works favorably for us. The main thing is the people up front have to do their jobs, and the people with the spotlight on them have to step up and make plays and keep the ball off the ground. It’s a matter of doing it and getting it handled.”

LION FOOTBALL, No. 8 Brownwood (3-0) at San Angelo Lake View (1-3), 7:30 p.m. today — San Angelo Stadium, 2006 Result: Brownwood 52, Lake View 7