GRAHAM — Over the past two seasons, the Brownwood Lions and Graham Steers crossed paths four times, with each winning twice. So it seemed only fitting that Friday night’s showdown at Newton Field would come down to the final play.
Facing a third-and-15 from the Brownwood 19, Graham quarterback Tucker Horn was sacked by Corleone Pressley, and the Lions completed a 10-point fourth-quarter rally for a 34-30 victory.
“We feel really blessed,” said Brownwood head coach Kyle Maxfield, who earned his first victory with the Lions. “We believed we were never out of it and we made some plays at the end. Outsiders might have thought we didn’t have a chance, but the Brownwood faithful was hanging in there with us.”
The Lions (1-1) scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:12 remaining as the special teams unit came up with its second critical play of the contest.
With Graham (0-2) leading 30-27 and facing fourth-and-4 from its own 22, Horn dropped back into short punt formation. Lion defensive lineman Devonte Evetts came barreling through the offensive line and his outstretched blocked the punt, which Hunter Mares scooped up at the 5 yard line and carried into the end zone.
“Players make plays,” Evetts said. “I worked and worked and worked, and when it was time to make a play I was able to make a play.”
The blocked punt didn’t seal the victory, however. After starting at their own 25, the Steers advanced to the Brownwood 42 in two plays thanks to an 18-yard pass followed by a 7-yard run with a personal foul tacked on at the end — one of eight Lion penalties for 80 yards.
“We still had some bad penalties tonight,” said Maxfield, whose team was flagged 15 times for 133 yards in last week’s 20-17 double-overtime loss to 5A Canyon.
A holding call against Graham followed by a Devon Jefferson sack of Horn pushed Graham into a fourth-and-26 situation. But, for the third time when facing a fourth-and-10 yards or more, the Steers converted as Jaxon Brockway — who rushed for 179 yards and caught eight passes for 123 yards — hauled in a 32-yard reception from Horn.
With eight seconds left and the ball at the Brownwood 14, the Lions defense converged on Horn who tossed the ball away but avoided an intentional grounding call with two seconds left. Then, following a delay of game call, Pressley sacked Horn for a 7-yard loss as time expired.
“That says it all about our defense,” Maxfield said. “They just kept going at it and played with a lot of heart and got the win. It doesn’t matter how pretty or ugly a win is, the kids fought hard to the bitter end.”
The Lions managed just 183 yards of total offense — 137 passing and 46 rushing — and two touchdowns, compared to 376 yards for the Steers, with 219 coming through the air. But Brownwood scored twice on special teams and once on defense, which proved to be the difference.
Brownwood never led in the first half, but immediately seized the advantage in the third period as Jeremy Brown returned the opening kick 82 yards for a touchdown, giving the Lions a 20-15 edge.
“They just pushed the ball up. It was cross wedge middle, the hole opened up, I hit it and I was gone,” Brown said. “I almost got sucked up, but I got in.”
The Lions then forced Graham into a three-and-out and after a short punt, Brownwood took over at the Steer 49. Poised to increase the advantage to two scores, a McLane Moore pass was deflected and picked off by Preston Langley at the Graham 19.
The Steers responded with a 16-play, 81-yard drive — converting a fourth-and-10 and a fourth-and-11 before Wes Martin’s 2-yard run put Graham back in front, 23-20, with 2:10 left in the third period.
Graham’s next drive featured a 77-yard touchdown run by Brockway, and the Lions faced a 30-20 hole with 9:09 to go.
“It was a game of momentum,” Maxfield said. “We had the momentum in the third quarter after the kick return and we were driving down and had the pick. Then Graham had the momentum until the middle of the fourth quarter.”
A quick two-play, 57-yard drive got the Lions right back in the contest. Moore first connected with Crystan Wright — who caught a team-high four passes for 53 yards — on a 27-yard gain. The very next play was a post route to Brown on the other side for 30 yards and a touchdown, closing the gap to 30-27 with 8:44 to go.
“We ran that play before to Crystan and saw how they covered it,” Brown said. “We just did the same thing the other way and it was wide open. It was a perfect ball from McLane.”
Moore finished 9 of 17 for 137 yards with an interception and tossed two touchdown passes for the second week in a row.
Graham jumped out to an 8-0 lead just 1:18 into the contest as a 51-yard catch and run by Brockway set up his 6-yard touchdown carry.
The Lions answered with 23 seconds left in the first period as Wright picked off an errant pass by Horn that didn’t reach the sideline and returned it 30 yards to close the gap to 8-6.
The Steers increased the advantage to 15-6 with 8:49 left before intermission on a 14-yard Brockway carry.
An interception by Tristin Revada late in the second period set up Brownwood’s first touchdown drive, as the Lions covered 25 yards and scored on a 9-yard pass from Moore to Rylan Reagan with 23 seconds left in the quarter to trim the deficit to 15-13 at halftime.
“Going in at halftime we kind of had our heads down, but we knew we were a second half team and we’re going to beat them,” Brown said.
The Lions open the home portion of their schedule at 7:30 p.m. Friday when Liberty Hill (1-0) visits. The Panthers blanked LaVernia, 30-0, Friday after their opener with La Grange was cancelled due to a lightning storm.
“We still have a long way to go, but just to get this win will help us,” Maxfield said. “Now we have to put the pedal to the metal and keep pushing forward.”
Lions 34, Graham 30
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Brownwood 6 7 7 14 - 34
Graham 8 7 8 7 - 30
G: Jaxon Brockway 6 run (Tucker Horn run), 10:42, 1st
B: Crystan Wright 30 interception return (kick failed), 0:23, 1st
G: Brockway 14 run (Jesus Hernandez kick), 8:49, 2nd
B: Rylan Reagan 9 pass from McLane Moore (Reagan kick), 0:23, 2nd
B: Jeremy Brown 82 kick return (Reagan kick), 11:46, 3rd
G: Wes Martin 2 run (Horn run), 2:10, 3rd
G: Brockway 77 run (Hernandez kick), 9:09, 4th
B: Brown 30 pass from Moore (Reagan kick), 8:44, 4th
B: Hunter Mares 5 blocked punt return (Reagan kick), 1:12, 4th
First Downs 9 18
Total Offense 183 376
Rushes-Yards 23-46 40-157
Passing Yards 137 219
C-A-I 9-17-1 19-29-2
Fumbles Lost 1 0
Penalties 8-80 6-45
Punts 7-37.5 6-30.3
B: Gavin Jefferson 11-25, McLane Moore 6-17, Braden Jetton 2-10, Harley Price 1-4, Xavier Armenta 1-2, Team 2-(-12). G: Jaxon Brockway 29-173, Wes Martin 2-4, Team 1-(-6), Tucker Horn 8-(-14).
B: Moore 9-17-1-137. G: Horn 19-29-2-219.
B: Crystan Wright 4-53, Blaine Hughes 1-33, Jeremy Brown 1-30, Rylan Reagan 1-9, Corleone Pressley 1-2; Jefferson 1-0. G: Brockway 8-123, Adam Groves, 8-67, Kalon Walker 2-15; Chance Hornsey 1-14.