SAN ANGELO — Brownwood keeps finding ways to extend the season — and the third round of the playoffs awaits as the Lions reached double figures in the win column for the first time since 2010.
The Lions defense held the Andrews Mustangs 36 points below their season average, while the offense chewed the final 6:49 off the clock as Brownwood earned a 17-13 victory and a Class 4A Division I Region I area championship Friday night at San Angelo Stadium.
Next for the Lions (10-2) is a regional semifinal showdown against the Mineral Wells Rams (10-2) — a 41-20 second-round winner over Pampa — at 1 p.m. Friday at Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium.
“We came out a little bit slow, but by the time halftime came around we woke up and realized what was on the line,” said Lions senior running back Brandon Diaz, who rushed for a team-high 65 of Brownwood’s 196 yards on the ground. “Everybody came together as a whole, we kept pounding the rock, and it took every single person on that field.”
Clinging to a four-point lead with a little more than half the fourth period remaining, the Lions — behind the front line of Hayden Day, James Nash, Kory Owen, Blaize Infinger and Clayton Hagey — marched from their own 17 to the 13 yard line of Andrews (10-2) before setting up in victory formation to kneel away the final seconds. The 11-play drive featured 10 rushing plays for 72 yards, as Brownwood picked up five of its 18 first downs on the possession.
“We practice that every single day, putting the ball in the gaps and getting 3 or 4 yards a pop so we can run the clock down,” Day said.
Quarterback Grant Lewis, who rushed for 56 yards and threw for 157, converted a third-and-4 from the Lion 40 on an 8-yard scramble and later iced the game with a 5-yard plunge on fourth-and-3 from the Andrews 32.
“On the last drive we were able to line up and run the ball down their throat and keep them off the field,” said Lions head coach Chuck Howard, who improved to 19-15 in his third season. “That may have been the most important drive of the whole game.
“They knew were going to run the ball, they stacked the box and we were still able to move the football. The same thing happened against Graham last week. We had to have first downs and Andrews only had one timeout left. We knew if we could get a couple of first downs they’d be done. The kids did a great job.”
Offensively, the Lions finished with 353 total yards, but again sputtered at times for the second week in a row.
In the first period, Brownwood netted just three points on a 32-yard field goal by Aaron Jimenez, despite advancing inside the Andrews 25 on each of its first three possessions. An interception and the failure to convert a fourth-and-3 foiled the other drives.
“I thought we had a chance to go up 21 points in the first quarter and we didn’t,” Howard said. “Offensively, it wasn’t pretty by any stretch. We’ll have to continue to work and get things rolling.”
Andrews — which mustered just 287 yards of total offense after averaging 49 points and 462 yards per outing — took the lead at the 9:14 mark of the second period on the first of two short touchdown runs by Trinidad Leal.
The Mustangs’ scoring drive covered 75 yards, but took 17 plays as only eight of Andrews’ 73 snaps went for 10 yards or more.
“They’ve made big plays all year,” Howard said. “We wanted to make them drive 15, 16, 17 plays and make them work. We didn’t want to give up any cheap touchdowns.”
Andrews — which had scored no fewer than 34 points in each of its first 11 games — was poised to take a two-possession advantage midway through the second period, but the only turnover for the Mustangs completely flipped the momentum.
Still up 7-3 and facing third-and-goal from the Brownwood 6, Andrews quarterback Triston Williams — who completed 32 of 51 passes for 231 yards — was picked off at the goal line by Gavin Jefferson, who returned the ball to the Lion 17.
“They came out in deuces and I saw that my guy went under so I just flipped my hips and the ball was there in my hands,” Jefferson said. “I just grabbed it and kept trucking, It was a big momentum swing.”
Added Howard, “We just rushed three and dropped everybody hoping the quarterback would try to squeeze it in somewhere and we’d get a pick. We almost did that a couple of times.
“We knew we weren’t going to get a lot of pressure because of their quick throwing game. The plan was never to bring more than three or four because of their jailbreaks and screens. We just tried to mix up the fronts.”
Following the interception, the Lions traveled 83 yards in 10 plays, chewing 2:37 off the clock and scoring on a 1-yard dive by Lewis with 11 seconds to go, which gave Brownwood a 10-7 halftime lead.
Lewis completed passes of 17 and 18 yards to Connor Howard — who finished with five receptions for 76 yards — during the drive. Howard also rushed 15 yards on a reverse down to the Andrews 2 to set up Lewis’ go-ahead score.
“We knew we were going to get the ball coming out in the second half and to go down and score was huge,” Howard said.
The Lions stretched their lead to 17-7 with 3:57 left in the third period thanks to a nine-play, 77-yard drive. Diaz capped the march with a 3-yard touchdown carry, but it was a 42-yard catch and run by Rylee Gregory — which featured a couple of broken tackles — that moved the ball inside the Andrews 10.
“We called that play earlier and it didn’t work out for us, but this time the ball was right where it needed to be and I ran through it, caught it and did everything I could,” Gregory said. “That gave us a big boost and after that we pounded it into the end zone for a touchdown.”
Andrews responded with another 17-play scoring trek, as Leal scored from 3 yards out to cap a 76-yard journey that brought the Mustangs within four points, 17-13, as the extra point was missed with 10 seconds left in the third period.
The Mustangs recorded their second interception at midfield on the first play of the fourth period, but were forced to punt the ball back to Brownwood — one of eight Andrews punts — after just three plays.
Andrews possessed the ball just once more the remainder of the game and failed to cross midfield.
“The coaching staff and the kids did a great job, and they fought their guts out,” Howard said. “I’m so proud of them.”
DIVISION I-4A REGION I AREA PLAYOFF
Lions 17, Andrews 13
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Brownwood 3 7 7 0 - 17
Andrews 0 7 6 0 - 13
B: Aaron Jimenez 32 FG, 3:37, 1st
A: Trinidad Leal 1 run (Julio Ramirez kick), 9:14, 2nd
B: Grant Lewis 1 run (Jimenez kick), 0:11
B: Brandon Diaz 3 run (Jimenez kick), 3:57, 3rd
A: Leal 3 run (kick failed) 0:10, 3rd
First Downs 18 20
Total Offense 353 287
Rushes-Yards 31-196 22-56
Passing Yards 157 231
C-A-I 13-20-2 32-51-1
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Penalties 4-23 3-15
Punts 5-42.6 8-30.6
B: Brandon Diaz 11-65, TD; Grant Lewis 14-56, TD; Gavin Jefferson 10-32; Connor Howard 3-23; Harley Price 2-16; Bruce Sterling 1-4. A: Torey Kelly 9-42; Trinidad Leal 7-17, 2 TDs; Triston Williams 5-(-1); Eddie Gabaldon 1-(-2).
B: Lewis 13-20-2-157 A: Williams 32-51-1-231.
B: Howard 5-76; Rylee Gregory 3-42; Jefferson 2-21; McLane Moore 1-5; Jeremy Brown 1-5; Bruce Sterling 1-3. A: Kelly 7-32; Devon Fitzgerald 6-71; Keegan Thompson 6-32; Gabaldon 5-39; Hayden Rochell 4-36; Keegan Gray 3-19; Jovi Lopez 1-2.