Technically, the Brownwood Lions have nothing to play for in the regular season finale against the Big Spring Steers. But third-year head coach Chuck Howard views Friday’s playoff tune up — slated for a 7:30 p.m. kick at Gordon Wood Stadium — drastically different.
“We’re heading into the last week of the season and everything’s determined, Big Spring’s out and we’re the No. 2 seed,” Howard said. “The tendency is with Big Spring out, and having the playoffs next week, you’re looking ahead to the playoffs. But I just don’t think we can have that mindset. We still have a lot of things we need to make corrections on and improve on, and we need to have some momentum going into the playoff run.”
Coming off last week’s 60-16 victory over Snyder, the Lions (7-2, 2-1) put forth one of their most complete performances of the season. Behind the offensive line of Hayden Day, James Nash, Kory Owen, Clayton Hagey and Blaize Infinger, Brownwood finished with 568 yards of total offense, including 466 yards rushing.
“That was the first time we’ve had all the starters on the offensive line in a game this year and it was good to have those guys back,” Howard said. “To be able to run the football on any defense is demoralizing. And to run the way we did was obviously very good for us. It keeps your defense and their offense off the field, and you’re scoring points at the same time. It’s the best of both worlds. It was really good to see. We had a number of backs carry the ball that were very productive, and again that goes back to the offensive line and how well they played. Any time we’re able to execute and run the football like we did Friday night, we’re going to have a very good chance to win.”
Defensively, the Lions surrendered only two touchdowns and 258 yards to Snyder, limiting the Tigers to 47 yards through the air on just 7 of 27 passing.
“As long as we’re able to run the football, control the clock, move the chains and score, it obviously puts us in a better situation defensively to stop people,” Howard said. “I think our kids have really come on defensively and are playing with a lot of confidence. We’re running around, playing hard and we’ve made great strides in the secondary in terms of defending the pass.
“I think both phases, offense and defense, are really coming on right now.”
Heading into Friday’s game, the Lions are averaging 40 points and 395 yards — 248 rushing and 147 passing — per game with only nine turnovers.
Quarterback Grant Lewis (87 of 136, 1,309 yards, 13 TDs, 3 INTs passing; 121-819, 11 TDs rushing) continues to be the driving force on offense, while other weapons in the backfield include Gavin Jefferson (57-543, 12 TDs), Harley Price (90-521, 3 TDs), Bruce Sterling (18-182, 2 TDs) and Brandon Diaz (4-86, TD). Primary receiving threats for the Lions are Connor Howard (33-589, 7 TDs), Rylee Gregory (23-459, 5 TDs), Price (18-151, TD) and Cory Richardson (7-74).
Defensively, the Lions surrender 20 points and 329 yards — 177 through the air and 152 on the ground — per game, with 18 takeaways.
Standouts include Carson Cloy (124 tackles, 5 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 INT, 4 FRs), Howard (61 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 FR), Gavin Jefferson (60 tackles, 4 for loss, 2 sacks), Jeremy Brown (53 tackles, 1 INT, 1 FR), Devonte Evetts (48 tackles, 4 for loss, 3 sacks, 1 INT), Devon Jefferson (45 tackles, 8 for loss, 4 sacks), Crystan Wright (42 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 INT, 1 FR), Tristan Chesser (42 tackles), Garrett Doyal (41 tackles, 6 for loss, 2 sacks, 1 FR), Hayden Donahoo (36 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 sack, 1 FR), Aaron Jimenez (30 tackles, 1 INT), Lewis (29 tackles, 2.5 sacks), and Corleone Pressley (27 tackles, 1 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR).
On the health front, the Lions could be without Chesser and Devon Jefferson Friday, as both suffered injuries against Snyder that forced them to leave the game and neither returned.
Big Spring (2-6, 0-3) is currently in the midst of a five-game skid, but each of the losses has come against a postseason qualifier — Graham (13-10), Andrews (60-27), Snyder (49-41), Stephenville (37-7) and Abilene Wylie (23-6).
In last week’s loss to Wylie, Big Spring surrendered only 229 yards of total offense and intercepted a pass.
Offensively, the Steers generated 238 yards — 165 passing and 73 rushing — but Big Spring’s lone turnover was an interception returned for a touchdown. Quarterback Garrett Wigington was 12 of 24 with a touchdown and a pick, and Daniel Luna grabbed eight receptions for 119 yards, including the scoring toss. Manuel Galvan rushed for a team-high 78 yards.
For the season, Big Spring averages 20 points and 311 yards — 156 rushing and 155 passing — per game, while giving up 35 points.
Big Spring’s defense is spearheaded by Galvan (84 tackles, three sacks), Wigington (81 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions), Caelan Gutierrez (61 tackles, three sacks, one fumble recovery), Luna (52 tackles, three interceptions) and Davian Moore (42 tackles, five sacks).
Offensively, Wigington has completed 49 percent of his passes for 1,006 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for 124 yards and three scores. Preston Alexander (670 yards, 8 TDs) and Galvan (213 yards, TD) are the leading rushers, while receiving targets include Luna (27-669, 6 TDs), Riley Henson (13-136, TD) and Nathan Schneider (13-132, TD).
“Big Spring is pretty multiple offensively,” Howard said. “They’ll be in two-back, one-back, they’ll go empty and motion some one-back. It looks like they want to run the ball, but they’ve been behind in a lot of games. When they started out against Snyder they had a lot of turnovers. Watching on film, I thought Big Spring was the better team, they just couldn’t take care of the ball against Snyder. Same thing against Stephenville, they had a lot of turnovers. On film they’re a pretty good football team.
“Defensively, we’re going to do what we do, which is line up to stop the run. If we can force them to throw the football then I feel good about our chances. If they’re able to line up and run the football against us then we’re going to have some issues. Big Spring, like Snyder, is always going to play hard and play physical.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 21-point favorite.
Looking ahead, Brownwood’s bi-district playoff foe won’t be determined until late Friday night as Graham, Mineral Wells and Decatur are all possibilities. Wins by Mineral Wells over Gainesville and Graham over Decatur would create a three-way tie for the District 4-4A Division I championship. In that scenario, the Lions would face Mineral Wells if Graham wins by 12 points or less, and Decatur if Graham wins by 13 points or more. If Graham loses to Decatur, the Lions and Steers will meet again in a rematch of Brownwood’s Week 2 victory.