Coming off a 2013 campaign in which Brownwood allowed 42 points and 475 yards per game, and playing through a pair of scrimmages with a number of starters missing time due to injuries, no one was quite sure what to expect from the Lions’ defense in Friday night’s season opener.
What the Lions delivered was the program’s first shutout since 2009, and its first season-opening victory since 2011 with a 35-0 thrashing of the Gatesville Hornets, a former district rival, at Gordon Wood Stadium.
“When we go into games I’m thinking about us being in the right positions, lining up right and pitching shutouts,” said Lions’ second-year head coach Chuck Howard, who was defensive coordinator of the 2009 Brownwood team that blanked Sweetwater, 42-0. “You have to play great defense if you’re going to win championships, so I’m very pleased.”
The Lions, who finished last season at 4-7 and exited in the first round of the playoffs, surrendered just 273 yards of total offense — 161 on the ground and 112 through the air — the entire game, and gave up a mere 125 yards during the first two periods.
Brownwood also created five turnovers — interceptions by Tristan Duque, Aaron Jimenez and Connor Howard and fumble recoveries by Dalton Simmons and Grant Lewis. The Lions also recorded five takeaways against Gatesville a year ago in a district competition, but still yielded 33 points and 525 yards of total offense in Brownwood’s last victory prior to Friday night.
Only four Gatesville plays in the first half covered more than 10 yards, with a long gain of 21. In the second half, the Lions yielded six plays of 10 yards or more, with the max gain being a 25-yard run in the closing minutes.
“Any time you can create turnovers and not give up any big plays you have a chance to win,” Howard said. “I like the way the kids were running around and flying to the football. I know how hard these kids have worked, the changes they’ve made and the effort they’ve put into this. I’m so proud of them because the work paid off tonight.”
On the flip side, the Lions generated 321 yards of total offense. Senior quarterback Colt Bertrand made his first start and connected on 18 of 22 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers — Howard, Rylee Gregory and Isaac Sanchez.
“That’s what we have to be able to do with people trying to take away Connor,” Howard said. “We have other guys that can hurt you and if you can do that, that will open up everyone more. Colt did a great job of spreading the ball around and staying composed. He’s very confident, a great leader and he had a great game.”
Brownwood’s ground game finished with 127 yards and averaged 3.6 yards per carry, with Harley Price leading the charge with 47 yards and a pair of 1-yard scores.
“Early on we were chunking it around a little too much,” Howard said. “We need to be able to run the football and be a physical team. Around the second quarter we started running it more, and that’s something we’re going to have to be able to do to be a good football team.”
The Lions defense began the game with a three-and-out and, after the offense stalled on its first possession, Brownwood’s defense created the first of a handful of Gatesville turnovers. Facing third-and-5 at the Hornet 36, Gatesville quarterback Jeff Speer was sacked and Dalton Simmons pounced on the loose ball.
“We’ve been putting in long hours in the weight room and we came out and played as a family, as a whole team,” said Simmons, who missed the Lions’ two scrimmages. “There’s been a lot of pursuit drills, lots of hustling in practice and it paid off tonight.”
Brownwood followed with a methodical 10-play, 32-yard drive that was capped by a fourth-and-goal Price plunge from the 1 that gave the Lions a 7-0 lead with 2:20 left in the opening stanza.
The Lions tacked on three more touchdowns — all from the arm of Bertrand — in the final four minutes of the first half.
Facing fourth-and-3 at the Gatesville 20, Bertrand connected with Howard on a 20-yard scoring toss that capped a seven-play, 53-yard drive that began when Duque picked off a Speer pass.
Leading 14-0 with 3:40 to go in the half, Jimenez intercepted Speer two plays after Brownwood’s second touchdown to set up a two-play scoring that drive that culminated with Sanchez’s 19-yard scoring reception from Bertrand at the 2:39 mark.
Gatesville’s next possession lasted 10 plays, but covered only 30 yards and ended on a failed fourth-and-10 try with 64 seconds remaining. Lion middle linebacker Michael Juarez, a move in from Pasadena, had a couple of tackles on the drive.
“I’m here to win. I want to taste the playoffs, state, everything,” Juarez said. “I’m looking so forward to playing with these guys. This was amazing, a blast, the most fun I’ve had in years.”
After Gatesville’s march stalled, it took the Lions just four plays to return to the end zone as Bertrand hooked up with Gregory on a bubble screen for a 19-yard score and 28-0 halftime edge.
Brownwood sputtered at times offensively in the second half, but pieced together a nine-play, 55-yard trek on its final possession as Price scored again from 1 yard out with 2:48 to go.
The Lions did cough up the ball twice, but the most glaring area of concern following Friday’s win was a staggering 16 penalties for 147 yards.
“We had some offsides penalties and personal fouls and we have to be more disciplined than that,” Howard said. “That’s something glaring that we have to fix. The players will tell you they are disappointed in themselves for allowing that to happen.”
Next up for the Lions is state-ranked Graham, which opened its season Friday night with a 45-21 victory over Vernon.
“We’re 1-0 and we’re certainly happy with that,” Howard said. “I told the kids to celebrate tonight and tomorrow and enjoy it. Then when we come back Monday we have to get ready for state-ranked Graham, and that’s going to be a much tougher task.”
Lions 35, Gatesville 0
Gatesville 0 0 0 0 - 0
Brownwood 7 21 0 7 - 35
B: Harley Price 1 run (Abraham Oviedo kick), 2:20, 1st
B: Connor Howard 20 pass from Colt Bertrand (Oviedo kick), 3:40, 2nd
B: Isaac Sanchez 21 pass from Bertrand (Oviedo kick), 2:39, 2nd
B: Rylee Gregory 19 pass from Bertrand (Oviedo kick), 0:23, 2nd
B: Price 1 run (Oviedo kick), 2:48, 4th
First Downs 20 18
Total Offense 273 321
Rushes-Yards 37-161 35-127
Passing Yards 112 194
C-A-I 13-27-3 18-22-0
Fumbles Lost 2 2
Penalties 9-71 16-147
Punts 3-25.0 5-28.4
G: Jeff Speer 16-65, Kael Byrom 3-38, Andraque Jones 8-30, Dakota Vernon 9-20, Collin Hallgrath 2-8. B: Harley Price 15-47, Connor Howard 5-28, Brandon Diaz 4-24, Colt Bertrand 9-22, Rylee Gregory 2-6.
G: Speer 13-27-0-3-112. B:. Bertrand 18-22-0-194.
G: Jones 5-62, Andrew Wallace 3-39. B: Gregory 6-63, Howard 5-48, Isaac Sanchez 3-58, Cory Richardson 1-12, Grant Lewis 1-9, Hayden Day 1-6, Diaz 1-(-2).