After a near miss in Week 1, the Brownwood Lions found a way to tally their first victory of the season with some closing minute heroics last week at Graham. Standing in the way of a second win for the Lions, however, is their toughest opponent to date, according to head coach Kyle Maxfield, in the No. 9 Liberty Hill Panthers.
The Lions (1-1) host Liberty Hill (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Gordon Wood Stadium in the home opener — one of just four contests in Brownwood this season.
“It’s going to be the biggest challenge we’ve had all year,” Maxfield said. “Some polls have them ranked as high as No. 4 in the state, and there’s a good reason for that.”
Liberty Hill has just one official game under its belt, a 30-0 victory over La Vernia last week. The Panthers’ season opener against La Grange was cancelled due to a lightning storm.
Brownwood opened its season with a 20-17 double-overtime loss to Class 5A Canyon, a game the Lions let slip away. Last week, the Lions responded with a 34-30 triumph at Graham as Brownwood rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit, scoring the winning touchdown on a blocked punt by Devonte Evetts that Hunter Mares returned for a touchdown.
“We’ve won crazy games a lot of different ways, but to block a punt to go up with just over a minute left was a first for me,” Maxfield said. “A lot of the coaches were saying that was a Brownwood win, where the kids just find a way. We knew we were going to be in for a battle with Graham because of the history there, and sure enough it lived up to the billing. We were glad to get the W, especially with the first week being such a tough one to lose. To lose two in a row like that could really set you back.”
The Lions scored twice on special teams, as Jeremy Brown also returned a kickoff 82 yards to start the second half, while Crystan Wright put Brownwood on the board late in the first period with a pick six from 30 yards out.
“At the beginning of the year we always preach good defense and special teams and Brownwood in the past has always been really good at those two aspects of the game,” Maxfield said. “Sure enough the second game of the year we run a kickoff back and then Devonte blocks the punt to get us the lead and then we held on there at the end to get the win. We also had a pick six by Crystan Wright, so our defense and our special teams really carried us through that game.”
Offensively, the Lions managed just 183 yards — 137 through the air and a mere 46 on the ground. Graham’s massive front played a role in Brownwood’s rushing struggles as an inexperienced unit front continues to gel.
“Our offense is still growing up, but they’ve had some growing pains,” Maxfield said.
Through two games, Brownwood’s offensive drives have resulted in 31 points while the Lions are producing 272.5 yards — 167.5 passing and 105 rushing — per outing.
Quarterback McLane Moore has connected on 24 of 43 passes for 335 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Four different Lions have caught touchdowns — Blaine Hughes (4-120, TD), Brown (3-47, TD), Corleone Pressley (3-39, TD) and Rylan Reagan (1-9, TD). Wright leads Brownwood with nine receptions for 100 yards.
On the ground, the Lions have yet to reach the end zone. Gavin Jefferson has compiled a team-best 122 yards while Moore has chipped in 42 and Harley Price, who carried the ball just once last week, has added 40 yards.
Tasked with slowing down the methodical Liberty Hill slot T offense is a Brownwood defensive unit that is yielding 25 points and 411.5 yards — 228 rushing and 183.5 passing — per contest.
Hayden Donahoo leads the Lions with 21.5 tackles and a sack trailed by Brown (19 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 INT), Mares (14.5 tackles, 5 for loss, 1 FR), Grant Fanara (13.5 tackles, 1 for loss), Wright (10 tackles, 2 INTs), Dylan Hickey (10 tackles, 1 sack), Evetts (9.5 tackles) and Devon Jefferson (9 tackles, 1 sack).
In Liberty Hill’s victory last week, the Panthers — who led 24-0 after one quarter — finished with 269 yards of total offense, with 252 coming on the ground on 47 carries for a 5.4 yards per rush average.
Justin Burkett rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns, with a long rush of 20 yards, while Freddie White added 86 yards, including a 44-yard scamper.
Through the air, Garrett Wright completed just 1 of 7 passes, a 17-yard touchdown to Dalton Phifer.
Michael Shipley also converted 3 of 4 field goal attempts with a long of 39 yards.
Leading the charge for the Panther defense were Cody Burns and Andy Becker with nine tackles each, Jonathan Dudgeon and Logan Hester with six tackles apiece, Becker with a fumble recovery, Slade Cummings with an interception and Daylan Cunningham with a sack.
“They’re really, really good, and really big and physical,” Maxfield said. “That’s Liberty Hill in a nutshell. They do what they do on offense with the slot T and they’re going to play ball control and try and keep the ball away from you. On defense, they run a split and they’re very aggressive with it.
“Liberty Hill is definitely going to make us better one way or the other. They may expose some weaknesses we haven’t seen, but hopefully we can stand strong and match their physicality. It’s one of those challenges you look forward to, and it’s our first home game of the year so I know our kids will be amped up.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 3-point underdog.