Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett stated earlier this week he felt the defensive front seven of District 5-4A Division I rival Stephenville was the team's greatest strength, and the visiting Yellow Jackets lived up to the praise, ending the Lions' four-game win streak in a 45-20 decision in the Battle of 377 Friday night at Gordon Wood Stadium.
Averaging 200 rushing yards per game this season, Brownwood (4-3, 1-1) was limited to a season-low 11 yards on the ground — amassing negative-18 in the first half — as Stephenville (5-3, 2-1) turned the Lions offense one-dimensional and honed in on quarterback Tommy Bowden for the duration of the contest.
“The best part of that team in my opinion is the front seven on defense, and they're going to win games for them the rest of the year,” Burnett said. “I make no excuses, we have to get better and grow. If not, we can't expect a different result. We're going to continue to fight, continue to play with character and never give up or surrender. We're going to learn from these opportunities because when we do get to the playoffs, and we'll get there, we're going to be a better football team for it.”
The Lions finished with 348 total yards, as Bowden completed 27 of 48 passes for 337 yards with a pair of scores and two interceptions. A.J. McCarty led Brownwood with nine grabs for 176 yards and a touchdown, Zach Strong added seven receptions for just 19 yards and a score, Braden Jetton finished with four catches for 54 yards, Reece Rodgers tallied four for 33 and Ben Kallman finished with three for 55 yards.
On the ground, Rodgers was leading rusher with 7 yards on four carries, while Bowden managed just 5 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushes.
“Offensively, the inability to run the football hurt us,” Burnett said. “We have to go at least 3 yards a click and we weren't doing that. I was concerned coming in because they're big and very good at what they do and have been together for three years at the varsity level. But I still felt we'd be able to move the ball a little bit better.
“I felt like we had to throw the ball to advance it and we did the best we could. Against a team like that, if they know you're going to throw the ball all night they're going to drop their coverage in their zones and they're going to defend it.”
Stephenville generated 430 total yards — 260 through the air and 170 on the ground. Quarterback Kade Renfro connected on 14 of 22 attempts with three touchdowns and one interception, while Krece Nowak rushed for 137 yards and a score. Zane Walker caught three passes for 110 yards and a touchdown, Kyle Lindsey added three grabs for 63 yards with a trip to the end zone and Gavin Rountree finished with two catches for 34 yards and a score.
“We gave them the big play,” Burnett said. “I didn't think we tackled real well. It's hard to say we played well when they put that many points on the board, but you have to look at several factors. We kept going three-and-out and had to punt and our defense was on the field the whole time, which is going to give them more opportunities and they're a good football team. We made some plays on defense, we just didn't get off the field when we needed to.”
Trailing 17-14 at halftime, Brownwood surrendered the first four touchdowns of the second half as Stephenville pulled away.
“They scored twice early in the second half and we kept going three-and-out, three-and-out,” Burnett said. “When you can't move the chains, you're steadily punting the ball and the defense is out there for the majority of the game, they're going to have more opportunities to score. I take the blame. We have to be able move the ball on the ground, we have to be able to execute and keep our defense off the field.”
The Yellow Jackets started the second half with the ball and faced a third-and-11 from their own 36 just three snaps in, but Renfro connected with Walker on a 17-yard gain over the middle. A facemask penalty, one of eight flags for 77 yards against the Lions, followed after Brownwood stopped Nowak for no gain on the next play. The Lions then sacked Renfro, but on the next snap Nowak scored from 40 yards out on an option pitch, as Stephenville stretched the lead to 24-14 just 1:47 into the third period.
After netting 1 yard on their first possession of the second half, the Lions moved from their own 32 to the Stephenville on the second drive. But a false start was followed by a Bowden pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by Stephenville's Blu Caylor.
Four plays later, following a 25-yard scramble by Renfro on third-and-7 at the Brownwood 35, Kason Philips scored from 5 yards out to push Stephenville's advantage to 31-14 with 4:24 to go in the third.
Yet another three-and-out by the Lions — which resulted in -10 yards of offense and Brownwood's fourth punt — set up a 66-yard, nine-play Stephenville drive as Caylor scored on a 1-yard dive with 11:31 left, extending Stephenville's edge to 38-14. The biggest play of the drive was a 34-yard gain by Nowak on another option play, which moved the ball down to Brownwood 7.
The Lions' next drive stalled at the Stephenville 15, and three plays later Renfro connected with Walker on an 84-yard scoring toss, the final points for the Yellow Jackets with 7:42 left in the contest.
Brownwood finally stopped Stephenville's run of 28 straight points with a 71-yard scoring toss from Bowden to McCarty just 13 seconds after the Yellow Jackets' final touchdown.
The Lions possessed the ball once more, but again the drive stalled deep in Stephenville territory at the 21 with 2:24 left.
“It's on us to take ownership,” Burnett said. “They were the better team tonight and beat us in the second half.”
Brownwood was a little more opportunistic in the first half, using Stephenville's lone turnover to take an early lead.
Renfro's first pass of the night was picked off by Khyren Deal, who returned the pigskin to the Yellow Jacket 14. A four-play trek ended with a 1-yard plunge by Bowden, as the Lions owned a 7-0 advantage after Zack Smith's PAT with 4:20 left in the opening period.
Stephenville fired back with 17 straight points on a 23-yard field goal by Chase Carrillo, a 28-yard touchdown pass from Renfro to Rountree and a 20-yard scoring toss from Renfro to Lindsey. The Yellow Jackets' second touchdown came just three plays after the Lions failed to convert a fourth-and-1 from their own 39 on a quarterback sneak.
Down 17-7 late in the second period, the Lions caught a break when Bowden was roughed following a punt, which kept the ball in Brownwood's possession following the personal foul call.
The next snap from the Stephenville 42 was a 36-yard juggling completion from Bowden to Kallman, which set up Strong's 6-yard touchdown catch from Bowden with 5:28 left in the second period as the Lions crept within 3 points.
After stopping Stephenville on a fourth-and-4 with 46 seconds left in the first half, the Lions were able to advance to the Yellow Jacket 33. A sack followed on a next play, however, then Bowden's Hail Mary attempt to McCarty on the final play of the half was intercepted.
Next up for the Lions is a trip to district leader La Vega (6-2, 2-0), which defeated China Spring (4-5, 0-3) by a 56-17 count Friday night.
“It doesn't get any easier next week,” Burnett said. “We're in a dogfight and we can either fold up our tent and run and hide or bow our necks up and go give it everything we have. The bottom line is we may not win a district championship but I'll take a bi-district championship over a district championship every day. If that's what the Lord has in store for us let's go enjoy it and let's get it. This isn't the end of the world, and I don't like losing but it is what it is. You still have to stand up and fight, that's life, and that's what I want our kids to learn.”
SCORE BY QUARTER
Stephenville 3 14 14 14 - 45
Brownwood 7 7 0 6 - 20
B: Tommy Bowden 1 run (Zack Smith kick), 4:20, 1st — 7-0
S: Chase Carrillo 23 FG, 1:51, 1st — 7-3
S: Gavin Rountree 28 pass from Kade Renfro (Carrillo kick), 11:28, 2nd — 7-10
S: Kyle Lindsay 20 pass from Renfro (Carrillo kick), 9:05, 2nd — 7-17
B: Zach Strong 6 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 5:28, 2nd — 14-17
S: Krece Nowak 40 run (Carrillo kick), 10:13, 3rd — 14-24
S: Kason Philips 2 run (Carrillo kick), 4:24, 3rd — 14-31
S: Blu Caylor 1 run (Carrillo kick), 11:31, 4th — 14-38
S: Zane Walker 84 pass from Renfro (Carrillo kick), 7:42, 4th — 14-45
B: AJ McCarty 71 pass from Bowden (kick failed), 7:29, 4th — 20-45
First Downs 21 17
Total Offense 430 348
Rushing Yards 39-170 17-11
Passing Yards 260 337
C-A-I 14-22-1 27-48-2
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Punts 3-43.6 4-36.2
Penalties 5-42 8-77
S: Krece Nowak 25-137, Kade Renfro 6-15, Kason Philips 6-15, Blu Caylor 2-3.
B: Reece Rodgers 4-7, Tommy Bowden 12-5, Joseph Johnson 1-(-1).
S: Renfro 14-22-1-260.
B: Bowden 27-48-2-33.7
S: Trace Morrison 4-26, Zane Walker 3-110, Kyle Lindsey 3-63, Gavin Rountree 2-24, Nowak 1-15, Caden Cowan 1-12.
B: AJ McCarty 9-176, Zach Strong 7-19, Braden Jetton 4-54, Rodgers 4-33, Ben Kallman 3-55.