As the Brownwood Lions continue to pursue their first district championship since 2010, the latest stop on the journey is the Battle of 377, as the rival Stephenville Yellow Jackets invade Gordon Wood Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday.
The Lions (4-2, 1-0), winners of four straight, are tied atop the District 5-4A Division I standings with La Vega (5-2, 1-0), which knocked off Stephenville (4-3, 1-1) by a 32-15 count last week. Brownwood, meanwhile, is coming off its second bye in three weeks.
“We’ve had some good days of preparation and I’m excited about where we are in our program only eight or nine weeks into our first year,” said Lions first-year head coach Sammy Burnett. “To have an opportunity to go out and play Stephenville and feel like we have a great opportunity to win the ball game is huge. It’s a testament to our kids’ work ethic, buy-in and character and them embracing the process. I’m about as excited as a I could be.
“All I hear our kids talk about is a district championship. And they don’t talk about it just to talk about it, they talk about it because they believe it. The reason they believe it is because it’s the process and the work that they’re doing. I believe it as well and so does our coaching staff. I’ve told our kids multiple times I’ve played in many ball games where we never had a chance, people didn’t give us a chance. But what those people don’t understand is you can’t measure the heart of a player or a team and their beliefs, and beliefs will take you a long way. Our biggest foe to face this year is Stephenville, it’s our a biggest game of the year so far and hopefully it’s one step closer for us to get a district championship.”
Along with last week’s loss to La Vega, Stephenville has fallen to Argyle (45-35) and Midlothian Heritage (26-21), with victories over Everman (41-16), Abilene Wylie (41-28), Georgetown (48-8) and China Spring (21-14) in its district opener.
The Yellow Jackets generate 32 points and 350 yards — 221 passing and 129 rushing — while giving up 24 points per outing.
Quarterbacks Kade Renfro (51 of 96 for 825 yards, 7 TDs, 4 INTs) and Cole Stanley (43 of 92 for 723 yards, 4 TDs) have split time behind center.
“The kid they had at quarterback earlier in the year was Cole Stanley and he’s more of an athletic, dual threat type quarterback. He threw the ball well, but he also had that element of the run factor, but he’s injured,” Burnett said. “I think Renfro is the better passer of the two. He’s 6-4, can see the field well, has a great arm and does a great job of sitting in the pocket and delivering the football. We’re going to try and counter that with some pressure and make him move around and do some things he doesn’t want to do, which is run.”
Krece Nowak (687 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 20-374, 3 TDs receiving) is the unquestioned leader of the rushing attack, and the second-leading receiver on the team. The other primary receiving options are Kyle Lindsey (23-402, 2 TDs) and Gavin Rountree (18-316, 8 TDs).
“They do a great job of running the football. They’re multiple, but they like to run out of a tight end set,” Burnett said. “Krece Nowak, their running back, he’s special. He’s sort of like Reece Rodgers, a little jitterbug, has good speed, runs the ball well, has great vision. We have to make sure we control him. Outside, Kyle Lindsey and Gavin Rountree both do a good job pressing the field vertically, and Lindsey has great hands.
“Up front, they’re averaging about 6-2, 265 pounds so they have some beef. Our defense is quick and we’re going to be doing a lot of stunting and stemming to try and do some things that confuse them.”
Defensive standouts for Stephenville include Blu Caylor (91 tackles, 13 for loss, 3.5 sacks), Gage Graham (77 tackles, 6 for loss, 3 INTs, 1 FR), Quentin Walker (70 tackles, 13 for loss, 5 sacks, 1 FR), Chase Carrillo (61 tackles) and Victor Moreno (51 tackles, 7 for loss).
“Probably the best part of the Stephenville team is their defensive front seven,” Burnett said. “Their linemen and linebackers do a great job of flying to the football. They’re very good at controlling their gaps and do a great job dropping into their zones in pass coverage when they see a high hat and the pass. We’re going to have our hands full.”
The Lions — who lead the Battle of 377 with a 47-29-2 series record, with wins in two of the last three meetings — are averaging 31 points and 393 yards per game, behind a balanced attack of 200 rushing and 193 passing yards. Brownwood has also committed just five turnovers.
Quarterback Tommy Bowden has connected on 73 of 127 pass attempts for 1,156 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions, while leading the team in rushing with 632 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Top receivers include A.J. McCarty (30-375, 3 TDs), Zach Strong (13-348 yards, 4 TDs), Braden Jetton (10-145) and Ben Kallman (8-136, TD), while other threats out of the backfield are Reece Rodgers (237 yards, 2 TDs), Joseph Johnson (149 yards) and Ian Moreno (82 yards, 2 TDs).
“Offensively, we just need to go out and execute,” Burnett said. “I think we have an outstanding game plan. We’re putting the game in Tommy’s hands a little bit and letting him make some reads and some checks at the line of scrimmage, which we’ve added this week. We’re going to let him see what they’re giving us and take advantage of that. We’re also going to press the field vertically and take some shots and see if we can get some big scores.
“It’s sort of the mindset we had against Graham. We thought Graham had a real good defense, good in the linebacking corps and up front, but we mixed it up and ran the ball, threw the screens, pressed the ball vertically and tried to keep them off balance.”
Defensively, the Lions are giving up 24 points and 335 yards — 192 passing and 143 rushing — per game with 11 takeaways, all of which have come during Brownwood’s current four-game win streak.
Leading tacklers include Hayden Tunnell (52 tackles, 6 TFL), Moreno (38 tackles, 2 TFL), Hunter Leonard (37 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT), Santanna Espinoza (33 tackles, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks), Damion Jones (31 tackles, 2 TFL, .5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 INT), Rowdee Gregory (27 tackles, 2 TFL, 3.5 sacks), Clayton Bertrand (27 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 FRs), Khyren Deal (27 tackles), Kris Hobbs (18 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.5 sack) and Strong (16 tackles, 4 INTs).
Special teams will also be a key aspect according to Burnett, as the Lions attempt to shore up some issues with snaps, kicks and returns.
“On special teams we’ve worked on our personnel,” Burnett said. “We have to get the best we can on the field for that. We’ve been really working on snap, hold, kick and working on snaps and protections for punts. Ninety percent of games that a punt gets blocked you end up losing, so we’re really focusing on that part of the game. We’ve also got to have field position so we’re going to try and pin them deep and hopefully have some good opportunities with good returns.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 1-point underdog.