The Brownwood Lions are in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season, but Friday’s Class 4A Division I Region I bi-district clash with the Sanger Indians is anything but a first-round pushover.
The Lions (5-3), the second seed from District 3, will tangle with the District 4 third-seed Indians (6-4) at 7 p.m. Friday at Weatherford’s Kangaroo Stadium.
Brownwood rides a three-game win streak into the contest, having defeated Stephenville, Big Spring and Snyder by an average score of 49-14. Sanger, meanwhile, is coming off a surprising 58-31 loss against Decatur, which dropped the Indians to third place. The Indians also lost to No. 1 Argyle but by only six points, which led Lions first-year head coach Kyle Maxfield to refer to Sanger as a “Jekyll and Hyde” team.
“This is more like playing a third-round team than a first-round team,” Maxfield said. “But at this point in the season you have to beat the best to be the best. I expect them to be at their best. We expect a big challenge but we’re looking forward to it.”
The Indians own victories over Graham (44-7), Krum (14-6), Bridgeport (35-3), Wichita Falls Hirschi (49-41), Burkburnett (41-26) and Gainesville (64-31), with losses against Decatur, Denton (31-21), Midlothian Heritage (45-19) and Argyle (27-21).
“Sanger didn’t play very well against Decatur. They had some bad snaps that cost them 21 points and that was pretty much the difference in the game,” Maxfield said. “On our bye week Coach (John) Contrucci and I were able to go watch Sanger play Argyle and they played Argyle closer than anyone has. We also saw film of them the first week against Graham and they were hitting on all cylinders. They were throwing bombs left and right, running the ball and Graham couldn’t get much going on offense.
“In most of their losses they were playing with some of their best players injured, but they’ve got everybody back and we expect them to be at full strength.”
Sanger enters Friday’s game averaging 34 points and 387 yards — 202 passing and 185 rushing — per contest, while yielding 28 points.
The Indians offense is led by quarterback Cincere Jackson, who has completed 144 of 234 passes for 1,978 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while rushing for 262 yards. Dameon Moser (970 yards, 12 TDs) and Gavin Brown (470 yards, 7 TDs) are the leading rushers, while primary receiving threats include Braven Smith (53-885, 14 TDs), Moser (40-420, 3 TDs), Brown (27-169) and Peyton Howard (20-480, 6 TDs).
“The first thing that comes to my mind about their offense is they’re really explosive,” Maxfield said. “They have a big, tall receiver (Smith) that looks like a Division I guy out there. Their quarterback is also very athletic.”
Defensively, the Indians are sparked by Luke Pennington (69 tackles), Tanner Cason (65 tackles, 2 INTs), Brock Howard (59 tackles), Clay Webster (57 tackles), Joseph Yarnall (51 tackles), Gavin Erwin (43 tackles, 5 sacks), Nick Pinzel (31 tackles, 6 sacks), Jake Galbreath (27 tackles, 6 sacks), Sam Stroud (37 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 FRs) and Howard (14 tackles, 3 INTs).
“Defensively the first thing that sticks out is how quick their tackles are,” Maxfield said. “We’ve really been emphasizing with our linemen that first step because their guys are going to try and penetrate and disrupt things in the backfield. They’re also very good on the back end at tackling. That kept them in the game against Argyle.
“They also have a player in Howard plays safety and receiver for them. He’s kind of like Jeremy Brown for us. He’s a play maker, a difference maker on both sides of the ball.”
Brownwood enters the playoffs coming off its three best outings of the season against Stephenville, Big Spring and Snyder. The Lions yielded an average of 14 points and 257 yards per game during their current win streak, while forcing a total of 15 turnovers in that span. For the season, the Lions are allowing 24 points and 341 yards — 203 rushing and 138 passing — per outing, with 25 takeaways on the season.
“I saw something on TV the other day where in college football 75 percent of the time the team that wins turnover battle wins the game,” Maxfield said. “Probably at the high school level it’s higher than that.
“It seems like our defense is hitting everything in stride right now. When you get in the playoffs and face really quality opponents, the teams that have the better defenses have a good shot of going to the next round, I think we’re sitting in good shape on the defensive side of the ball.”
Defensive standouts for the Lions include Hunter Mares (64 tackles, 13 for loss, 2 sacks, 5 FRs, 1 INT), Jeremy Brown (60.5 tackles, 3 for loss, 3 INTs), Hayden Donahoo (54.5 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 sack, 1 INT), Grant Fanara (54 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 FR, INT), Devonte Evetts (45.5 tackles, 4 for loss, 2.5 sacks), Blaine Hughes (37 tackles, 1 FR, 1 INT), Devon Jefferson (32.5 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, 1 FR), Crystan Wright (30.5 tackles, 2 for loss, 4 INTs), Hayden Tunnell (30.5 tackles, 8 for loss, 2 sacks, 2 FRs), Quincin Eagle (30 tackles, 2 for loss, 2 sacks), Dylan Hickey (22.5 tackles, 1 sack), Gavin Jefferson (21 tackles, 1 for loss, 1 sack) and Corleone Pressley (19.5 tackles, 2 for loss, 4 sacks).
The Lions are also coming off their two highest-point outputs of the season, tallying 63 points against Snyder in a 28-minute span after falling behind 10-0 early. Brownwood also generated 426 yards last week after compiling 379 yards the week prior. For the season, the Lions are producing 35 points and 323 yards — 169 rushing and 154 passing — per game, with 16 turnovers.
Maxfield credited the play of linemen Liam McCraw, Blaize Infinger, Colby Coppic, Carson Benedict and Wyatt Jacobs for the Lions’ recent surge in production.
“The line continues to improve each and every week and that’s a credit to the type of kids they are and just grinding it out with Coach Contrucci,” Maxfield said. “You talk about the daily grind and when you get into the playoffs you still work hard, but now it’s time to celebrate that grind each week that you keep playing ball.”
Quarterback McLane has completed 68 of 128 passes for 1,204 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing for 270 yards and three scores. Gavin Jefferson (620 yards, 7 TDs) and Price (369 yards, 5 TDs) provide a dangerous 1-2 punch in the backfield, with Xavier Armenta (130 yards, TD) providing a change of pace. Leading receivers include Wright (20-243), Pressley (15-238, 3 TDs), Hughes (9-231, 2 TDs), Brown (9-169, 3 TDs) and tight end Rylan Reagan (2-29, 2 TDs).
Friday’s winner will face either Andrews (9-1) or Borger (1-8) in the area round next week.
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 17-point favorite.