The Brownwood Lions earned a critical road victory over the Burnet Bulldogs in the District 8-3A opener last week and will look to remain atop the league standings Friday night as they face the preseason favorite Liberty Hill Panthers in their second straight outing away from home.

The Lions (3-3, 1-0), in the midst of their first winning streak of the season, are coming off a 25-13 triumph over Burnet highlighted by the second five-takeaway performance by the defense. Liberty Hill (5-1, 1-0), meanwhile, has reeled off five straight victories since dropping the season opener to No. 7 Giddings, 32-29, and has scored no fewer than 46 points in any of the wins.

Game time is slated for 7:30 p.m. Friday.

While Brownwood did walk away from Burnet with a win last week, Lions fourth-year head coach Bob Shipley stated a crisper performance will be required to keep up with the Panthers. Brownwood committed three turnovers, increasing the Lions’ total to 11 giveaways for the year, and was penalized 10 times for 80 yards.

“We had some kids that played their hearts out and then had some others who didn’t play very well,” Shipley stated. “Overall it was just a sloppy game. We were fortunate to get out of there with a win.

“There’s a lot more to it than just saying ‘stop getting penalties.’ Penalties are caused by lack of focus, lack of effort and sometimes being too aggressive. We’ve gone over each penalty with the kids and we’ll continue trying to eliminate them. We’ve been penalized way too many times this season.”

Two of the three turnovers came in the second half as the Lions were limited to just a field goal and 93 yards of total offense after halftime. Brownwood finished with 263 yards — 169 through the air and 94 on the ground — of total offense.

“Sure it concerns me,” Shipley said of the second-half offensive performance. “They were doing some things in the second half defensively that we didn’t handle very well, plus penalties killed us. We’ll work to get those things corrected. We have to get points when we’re inside the opponent’s 30 yard line. We didn’t take advantage of opportunities we had.”

On the flip side of the ball, the Lions did yield 339 yards of total offense — 221 passing and 118 rushing — but forced five turnovers for the second time this season. Through six games, Brownwood has taken the ball away from its foes 11 times, but 10 of those turnovers occurred in two games.

“I don’t have any idea,” Shipley said of the way the takeaways have been either feast or famine for the Lions thus far this season. “Sometimes the offense just doesn’t take care of the ball and sometimes it’s because of great plays. It’s crazy because when we turn the ball over it’s our fault and when our opponents turn the ball over it’s because we caused it. The truth is somewhere in between probably.”

Winning the turnover battle again this week would be a huge plus for the Lions, who are facing a Liberty Hill slot-T attack that is producing 53 points and 457 yards, including 432 rushing, per outing.

The two leading rushers in District 8-3A hail from Liberty Hill — Jesse Perez with 766 yards and six touchdowns and Cory Ferrell with 687 yards and 11 scores — while Will Fromme ranks sixth in the district with 409 yards and six touchdowns and Jadon Boatright is 10th with 242 yards and three trips to the end zone.

The Panthers have passed for just 147 yards as quarterback Brandon Wells has connected on 10 of 22 attempts with one touchdown and three interceptions.

“They run the slot-T and do it as well as anybody,” Shipley said. “They may get stuffed at the line three times in a row and then break a long one. It’s a tough offense to defend because it happens so fast and there are backs going every direction.”

The Lions defense, meanwhile, surrenders 23 points and 315 yards — 181 passing and 134 rushing — on average. Leading the charge for Brownwood are Mack Monsen (62 tackles, six for loss, two sacks), Henry Rivas (61 tackles, three for loss, one sack), Jace Newman (58 tackles, eight for loss, six sacks, two fumble recoveries), Dylan Lewis (49 tackles, one for loss, one sack), Kaimon Ontiveros (36 tackles, one interception), Dylan Martin (31 tackles) and Bryce Vickers (26 tackles, three for loss, sack, interception).

While the Panthers have been piling up the points, Liberty Hill has also given up its fair share as the opposition has averaged 25 points and 387 yards per game on average, which could bode well for the Brownwood offense. Shipley, however, believes those numbers are slightly misleading.

“They play tough defense,” Shipley said. “One reason they’ve given up some points is because they are so far ahead they put in their subs. They have no obvious weakness so we’ll have to see how the flow of the game goes, but it’s the same old song and dance — we have to be more consistent.”

The Lions head into the contest tallying 22 points and 274 yards — 155 passing and 119 rushing — per game on average.

Quarterback Chris Keesee has completed 92 of 131 passes for 923 yards with eight touchdowns and five interceptions, while leading receivers for the Lions include Cooper Howey (32-356, 5 TDs), Matt McCrane (16-194, TD), Eddie Duque (12-150, 2 TDs), Jared Crouch (8-52), Ontiveros (6-55), Braxton Kilgo (4-29), Martin (5-29), Elijah Salazar (3-25) and Vickers (2-16).

Leading the way on the ground — behind the offensive line of Michael Livingston, Jaylen Bocknite, Kevin Hobbs, Caleb Wilbourn and Cody Skains — are Kilgo (89-329, 5 TDs), Duque (20-181, TD), Daylon Johnson (36-115, 3 TDs), Martin (17-69) and Howey (3-50).

In regard to what it will take for the Lions to emerge from Friday’s contest with a 2-0 district mark, Shipley suggested playing keep away will be the game plan.

“We have to slow their offense down and force them to punt or turn it over,” Shipley said. “A couple of teams have played them tough for a half and then they wear you down in the second half. We have to play great defense for four quarters. 

“Offensively, we have to get some drives going and not have three-and-outs. We need to protect our quarterback and take advantage of every opportunity we can.”