Frustrating is one of several words that could be used to describe the start to the Brownwood Lions’ 2013 football campaign. And, at times, the team has been its own worst enemy, as first-year head coach Chuck Howard admitted. But the Lions are looking to put their 0-2 start behind them at 7:30 p.m. Friday as they host the Snyder Tigers (0-2) for homecoming.
Snyder is coming off a pair of one-point losses to Amarillo Caprock (28-27) and Lubbock Cooper (32-31), while the Lions’ defeats have been more one-sided — though Brownwood has played much stiffer competition.
While the Lions’ offensive stats have been respectable during the first two weeks of the season, the defense has received numerous body blows by one offense filled with NCAA Division I caliber talent, and another offense that won a 7-on-7 Division II state championship over the summer.
Brownwood hasn’t done itself any favors, either, especially in the first quarter where the Lions have been outscored 56-7 thus far.
“Out of their eight possessions in the first quarter against Graham and All Saints, six started inside the 50 and four were inside our 30,” Howard said. “Four were due to kicking game errors and the other two were fumbles by the offense. We can’t make those errors, period, and certainly not against good teams like Graham and All Saints. Those are things we’re making our kids more conscientious about. We have to take care of the football and field position is extremely important.”
Howard stated the Lions will continue to implement their punting style, which is not the traditional kick. Instead, the punter moves around in the backfield seeking an opening and kicks with a much lower trajectory, which worked well last season. This year, however, three punts have been kicked directly at members of the opposition and fielded after covering just 7, 10 and 12 yards. The ensuing returns resulted in negative net yardage on the punts.
“I’m about to pull my hair out on that because we can’t put ourselves in that situation,” Howard said. “We put this in a year ago and went back and charted it. We had two blown kicks last year, one was a blocked punt against Graham they returned, the other was the first possession against Glen Rose when we kicked our up back in the rear and created a short field. If you look at everything else, we had zero returns when we actually executed the kick, so we averaged about 38-40 yards.
“We’ve charted it again this year and when we’ve executed, we’ve averaged about 40 yards and no returns. What we have to do is do a better job of executing the kick. The kicker has to get it out a little wider and the angle has to be better. Graham, after watching the All Saints film, played a kid a little bit deeper expecting a short kick. Obviously we worked on that this week and will continue to work on it. It’s a good punt that minimizes the return.”
A lack of intensity, especially in last week’s first road game at Graham, is another reason Howard cites for the slow starts thus far for the Lions.
“Honestly, I was disappointed with the way we came out,” Howard said. “I didn’t think we were ready to play and it could be a number of things, I don’t want to venture a guess. I’ve also been disappointed for two weeks in a row that we put ourselves in a hole in the first quarter that’s been hard to dig ourselves out of.”
Thus far, the Lions are yielding 63 points and 532 yards — 350 passing and 182 rushing — per game, with just one turnover forced. However, Brownwood likely will not face two offenses as explosive as All Saints and Graham the remainder of the season.
“We’re just not where we need to be on defense,” Howard said. “I would have told you the same thing at this time a year ago. We’re not real good in a lot of areas, but we’re going to continue to improve and get where we need to be. Certainly having some of kids back this week will help.”
The roster will be closer to full strength with the return of the players suspended the first two games for disciplinary reasons, as well as defensive back Matt Lewis, who missed the first two outings because of an ACL injury.
“From a fatigue standpoint, it will make the most difference,” Howard said in regard to the returning players. “We have some kids playing 150 to 160 snaps, going both ways and it’s a struggle, especially with the offensive and defensive lines. Having some kids back will alleviate that situation.
“And with Matt being back, that gives us more seniors in the secondary. He’s been cleared and we’re easing him into this, seeing how he can move and change direction.”
Thus far, the Lions defense has been led by Dalton Simmons, who has amassed a team-high 25 tackles, including 19 last week against Graham. Dylan Lewis has chipped in 19 tackles trailed by Brandon Diaz with 18, Grant Lewis with 17 and Kaimon Ontiveros with 12.
Brownwood will face a Snyder offense that is generating 24 points and 348 total yards — 247 rushing and 101 passing — per outing. The Tigers are led by quarterback Skillet Rhinehart (22 of 45, 202 yards; 11-50 rushing), running back D’Vincent Allison (57-336, 4 TDs) and receivers Taylor Munkres (7-31), Jonathan Garcia (6-31) and Felix Martinez (3-55).
“Snyder is typically a physical team and their kids always play really hard,” Howard said. “They had a chance to win both of their games, but lost by one point in each, and they always play Brownwood tough. They’re physical and big up front and their main weapon in the backfield is their quarterback, Skillet Rhinehart, who was a receiver a year ago. D’Vincent Allison is a very good running back with good speed and is a physical kid. They’re very multiple offensively, formation wise. Primarily they spread the field to run. The quarterback is an adequate passer, but I wouldn’t compare him to either Graham or All Saints. They want to run the ball more and control the clock.”
The Lions defense has endured its share of troubles early on, while the offense has experienced success in spurts — especially through the air. Brownwood, which has scored 21 points in each half thus far, is averaging 319.5 yards of total offense, including 279 yards passing.
Chris Keesee has connected on 58 of 79 passes for 560 yards with four touchdowns and only one interception. Connor Howard (21-201) and Bryan Johnson (20-203, 3 TDs) have been Keesee’s primary targets, accounting for 71 percent of the Lions’ receptions. Matt Gomez (6-54) is the closest to the duo in terms of catches and yards, while Ontiveros has the other scoring reception.
“We’re throwing the ball around pretty well, we’re just inconsistent,” Howard said. “We have to find a running game, we’ve got to be able to establish the run. But Chris has thrown the ball well and Bryan and several of our receivers are playing well and making good plays.”
On the ground, the Lions are averaging just 40.5 yards per game and have rushed for a total of 81 yards on 25 carries, including 16 rushes for 20 yards against Graham. Carson Cloy has gained 69 yards and Ontiveros has chipped in 40 — and was the leading rusher against Graham with one carry for 24 yards. No other Lion has reached double figures in rushing yardage for the season.
The expected boost with the return of Braxton Kilgo may have to wait an additional week as Kilgo is practicing this week, but is being worked back into action slowly.
“Braxton’s suited up, but he’s got a brace on and has been limited with his practice time,” Howard said. “Back in 2009 and 2010, Payton Christopher had an AC separation and played with it. He’d get a stinger every now and then and have to come out for a couple of plays, then he’d go back out and play. It’s not something that’s going to fully heal and there’s going to be some pain involved. But we’re putting this is in Braxton’s court when he’s ready to go. He could possibly play Friday but if not, we’ll look at him again next week.”
Regardless of who suits up, the Lions will face a Snyder defense that is yielding 30 points and 351.5 yards — 141 rushing and 210.5 passing — per game.
“They play a 4-2-5 defense and run to the ball very well,” Howard said. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us. They’re pretty physical but we feel good about where we’re at. We’ve shown some good signs on offense at times, we just have to be more consistent in what we’re doing and hold on to the ball.”
Howard listed the biggest keys to a Brownwood victory Friday were getting off to a better start, both in terms of intensity and the score.
“We’ve gotten out of games early in the first quarter, so we have to take care of the football and create field position to give ourselves a chance to win,” Howard said. “And we have to come out ready to play, be on fire and have a sense of urgency on both sides of the ball.”