COLLEGE STATION — Some coaches believe more can be learned about a team by how it addresses adversity opposed to how its handles success. Brownwood Lions head football coach Sammy Burnett echoed a similar sentiment following Thursday’s pool play action at the 7-on-7 Division II state championship.
Carrying an impressive 12-1 state qualifier record into Veterans Park and Athletic Complex, the Lions dropped their first two Pool L games to Fairfield (28-20) and Midlothian Heritage (49-24) before rebounding to knock off Silsbee (28-18) in the finale.
“Sometimes you learn a lot more from the adversities you face,” Burnett said. “Successful people have failed a lot, but they’ve learned from their failures. That’s important. The Bible says praise yourself and you’ll be humbled, humble yourself and you’ll be praised. Today when we got out here we were praising ourselves, but we were humbled and eating that humble pie didn’t taste very good. I promise you, it’s not fun, but our kids responded and bounced back against a good Silsbee team.”
Class 4A Division I Midlothian Heritage and 4A Division IIs Silsbee and Fairfield are all preseason Top 15 squads in their respective classifications according to Dave Campbell’s Texas Football.
“We played three highly talented teams and in my opinion we were the best pool out here, there’s no doubt about it,” Burnett said. “But there’s no excuses and we didn’t play well offensively or defensively the first two games and we got exposed by two pretty good ball clubs in 7-on-7, but I’d like to see what we could do padded up against them. But you have to tip your hat to them and figure out what’s going on with you and fix you. Our kids responded to what we were telling them.”
After posting a 1-2 pool play record, the Lions were assigned to the 16-team consolation bracket, which begins at 8 a.m. Friday. Brownwood opens bracket play against Rockport. The Lions will play until they lose under a single elimination format.
“In bracket play I hope we gain regain some of that confidence we lacked in the first two games,” Burnett said. “I want to see an attitude and mentality, regardless if things are going well or negative, that it doesn’t change our mentality. We’re focused on the end goal and that’s the result at the end of the game. Just play from play to play, don’t let every play affect your demeanor.”
Overall Thursday, Lions quarterback Tommy Bowden completed 56 of 101 passes — 55 percent — with 10 touchdowns, coming off a performance where he connected on 74 percent of his tosses with 23 scores at the Brownwood state qualifier last week.
Leading receivers for the Lions were A.J. McCarty (16 catches, four TDs), Braden Jetton (nine catches, three TDs), Grayson Swanzy (nine catches), Ben Kallman (eight catches, two TDs), Zach Strong (five catches, one TD), Joseph Johnson (four catches), Reece Rodgers (three catches), Hunter Leonard (one catch) and Clayton Bertrand (one catch).
“I want to see us execute better,” Burnett said. “We dropped too many balls today and we busted some coverages, which hadn’t seen, but we also haven’t been playing the caliber of teams we just saw today.”
The Lions did not force a turnover until the finale against Silsbee, where Anthony Larrea intercepted the first pass of the game at the goal line. Later, the Lions snapped a 6-all tie when Rowdee Gregory returned a pick a short 5 yards for six points. Bowden hooked up with Strong on the two-point conversion, and the Lions opened a 14-6 lead they never relinquished.
“The first ball was an interception and that sort of set the tone and the kids responded,” Burnett said. “I was also real proud of the adjustments we made offensively in the second half. We took what they gave us and exposed their defense, and our defense stepped up and played well. I was pleased with the finish.”
After connecting on just 7 of 16 first-half passes, with one touchdown, Bowden completed his first nine attempts of the second half, including a touchdown and two-point toss to Jetton that extended the lead to 22-12.
Later, Bowden connected with Kallman to stretch the advantage to 28-12, Brownwood’s largest cushion of the day.
The Lions’ first lead of the entire day came on their first possession against Silsbee, as Bowden found McCarty for a 6-0 lead on the seventh snap.
In the opener against Fairfield, the Lions failed to score on their first two possessions, but trailed only 7-6 after Bowden hooked up with McCarty on the third drive. Brownwood did not score again in the first half and faced a 21-6 halftime deficit.
After halftime, Bowden twice connected with Jetton on scoring tosses, but the Lions could not make up enough ground.
Against Midlothian Heritage, the Lions yielded touchdowns on all seven Jaguar possessions. Brownwood put three touchdowns on the board in the first half — two scoring grabs by McCarty and one by Strong — and trailed 29-18 after the break.
In the second half, however, all the Lions mustered was a touchdown pass from Bowden to Kallman.