With three consecutive victories to their credit, the Brownwood Lions return to the field Friday night as District 5-4A Division I action commences. The first challenge for the Lions (3-2, 0-0) is the Gatesville Hornets (2-4, 0-0) at 7 p.m. at McKamie Stadium.

District 5-4A Division I is expected by many to be among the toughest in the state in any classification, and Lions first-year head coach Sammy Burnett agrees.

“They all stick out,” Burnett said of Gatesville, Stephenville, Waco LaVega and China Spring. “They all have the potential to be powerhouses. They all have quality players and quality coaching staffs and we’re about to run the gauntlet and see how we do.”

Coming off the first of two bye weeks, with the second coming next week, Burnett has been pleased with the Lions’ approach to the district opener.

“Practice has gone well,” Burnett said. “I made a comment to them about how I see some teams of old rising up through them because of their work ethic and the character they’re exemplifying right now, and their desire to get better. If we continue to have a good week of practice expectations for ourselves will be high and we’ll go into the game Friday expecting to win and not wanting to win.

“They’re amped up, like a bunch of wild horses ready to run. We’re going to do our best to go out there and execute our game plan and deal as much punishment to them as possible and see if we can’t win all three phases of the game.”

The Lions’ most recent outing was a 53-21 homecoming triumph over Abilene Wylie, Brownwood’s first victory over the Bulldogs since 2010. In the win, the Lions amassed 595 yards — including 504 yards rushing on 51 carries — while intercepting four passes, all in the second half, including one for a touchdown.

Gatesville, meanwhile, is coming off a 59-23 loss to Glen Rose. The Hornets gave up 277 passing yards and six touchdowns to Glen Rose quarterback Cameron Griffin and trailed at one point 40-9. Gatesville scored on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Preston Preciado to Zach Mueller, a 60-yard scoring toss from Seth Trotter to Tahje Miller and a 31-yard wide receiver screen from Mueller, one of three players who rotated at quarterback, to Miller. Mason Johnson added a 35-yard field goal as well.

“The key to our success is stopping Zach Mueller, who is their go to guy on offense,” Burnett said. “We’ve see him at quarterback, wide out and slot receiver and run ning back, he’s everywhere. Defensively he’s the bell cow as well and ultimately if we want to win the game we have to stop him.”

The Hornets have also fallen to Midlothian Heritage (21-6), Cameron Yoe (41-21) and Waco Connally (17-7) with their wins against Lampasas (33-27) and Robinson (42-28).

“This is what I think is one of the toughest districts in Class 4A and to get prepared you to have to play the toughest opponents possible. Gatesville has and we have,” Burnett said. “We’ve all been there and the records are evident. There’s not anybody in our district with less than two losses. We’ve all played playoff worthy opponents.”

Brownwood heads into the contest averaging 30 points and 393 yards — 200 passing and 193 rushing — with only four turnovers.

Quarterback Tommy Bowden has connected on 65 of 113 passes for 1,001 yards with six touchdowns and one interception, while rushing for a team-best 478 yards and 11 scores. Leading receivers include A.J. McCarty (27-329, 3 TDs), Zach Strong (10-302, 2 TDs), Braden Jetton (9-105), and Ben Kallman (8-136, TD). Other threats on the ground include Reece Rodgers (163 yards, TD), Joseph Johnson (143 yards) and Ian Moreno (82 yards, 2 TDs).

“Hopefully we can control the ball, win up front, and run the ball on the ground which will set up some passing opportunities for us,” Burnett said. “On the ground you’ll see us in a tight end set. The three games that’ve we’ve had success in we’ve been in a tight end set, so we’re probably going to be in that the majority of the time.

“We’re going to run a little bit more motion than what we do. I feel like that confuses (Gatesville) a little bit. I think we can exploit them in the secondary if we can just get our kids the ball in space and confuse them with a little motion.”

On the flip side of the ball, the Lions are giving up 27 points and 349 yards — 190 through the air and 159 on the ground — with 10 takeaways, all during the three-game win streak.

Leading tacklers include Hayden Tunnell (41 tackles, 5 TFL), Moreno (33 tackles, 2 TFL), Hunter Leonard (32 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT), Santanna Espinoza (29 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack), Damion Jones (27 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FR, 1 INT), Rowdee Gregory (22 tackles, 2 TFL, 2.5 sacks), Khyren Deal (20 tackles), Clayton Bertrand (19 tackles, 1 FR), Kris Hobbs (18 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.5 sack) and Strong (13 tackles, 4 INTs).

“The Gatesville offense is extremely multiple in what they do,” Burnett said. “They’ll be in a tight end set, a sniffer set, a three-back set, a two-back set, a one-back set, they’ll be tackle over, they’ll be tight end over, they’ll be trips over. They’re very multiple and they’re consistent in what they try and do out of it. They try to deceive you with formations and beat you by alignment.

“They’re big and physical, and their goal is to keep the ball out of your hands, hold the ball as long as they can. They’re going to milk the clock. Against Midlothian Heritage, they got beat 21-6 by a team that’s been ranked in the Top 5 all year long and they just kept the ball away from them. The goal for us defensively is to get off the field when we get opportunities, and we have to capitalize on every touch we get. Every time we have an opportunity to have a series we need to put points on the board.”

According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 17-point favorite.