The Brownwood Lions’ four-game win streak came to an end last week during the Battle of 377, and now head coach Sammy Burnett’s troops will attempt to bounce back against the preseason District 5-4A Division I favorite and second-ranked Waco La Vega Pirates.
Game time between the Lions (4-4, 1-1) and Pirates (6-2, 2-0) is 7 p.m. Friday.
The Lions are coming off a 45-20 loss to Stephenville in which Brownwood trailed by only a field goal at halftime, but gave up 28 second points over the final two periods while generating a mere 11 yards rushing for the game.
“Practice is going really well and I’m proud of our guys,” Burnett said. “They’ve bounced back from last week. They’re trying to grow and trying to learn, their attitudes have been good and attentive. Offense has gone well, the defensive segments have gone well and what’s important is the kids are attentive, they’re not dragging. They’re up tempo and trying to learn and absorb everything they can so they can have an opportunity Friday night to go out and compete and that’s all we’re asking for. Embrace the process. When we step off the bus Friday we’ll feel good about who we are and what we’re doing and go out there and give it everything we’ve got.”
La Vega, meanwhile, steamrolled China Spring, 56-17, last week as the Pirates scored touchdowns on all four of their first-half possession, while the defense forced four turnovers in the second half.
Quarterback Ara Rauls rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns and completed 8 of 9 passes for 106 yards. Leading rusher Jar’Que Walton finished with 138 yards and three scores on just seven carries as La Vega compiled 459 yards of total offense.
“They’re fast and very athletic, and they’re really disciplined,” Burnett said. “A lot of times when you have as many athletes as they have you can get complacent because they’re so athletically-inclined they can make mistakes and make up for it. But the more film I watch the more I realize how disciplined they are.
“They’re led by their quarterback, who’s a sophomore, Ara Rauls. He throws the ball well, has great feet and runs the ball well when we decides to do that. Jar’Que Walton is their tailback and he’s also a sophomore and he’s special. He’ll turn a little bitty play into a 60-yard touchdown. They have receivers that can go downfield, and their offensive line is very big and talented and moves well.
“On the defensive side they’re led by their linebacking corps and their D-line. Their defensive tackle JaCorrey Coaster is a man. He’s probably 6-4 and in the 270-pound range and he moves well. He leads their front. They’re a 4-3 man team, they play off man and really fly to the football extremely well.”
La Vega’s two losses this season have come by a combined five points — 31-29 at top-ranked Argyle in Week 2 and 20-17 at Class 5A Austin LBJ, which is 6-2 on the season, in Week 3.
The Lions enter the contest averaging 29 points and 386 yards — 213 passing and 173 rushing — per game with seven turnovers. Brownwood finished with 337 yards against Stephenville, along with a season-high 48 pass attempts, only 17 carries on the ground and the first multiple-turnover game of the year.
Quarterback Tommy Bowden has completed 100 of 175 passes for 1,493 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, while rushing for a team-best 637 yards and 14 touchdowns. Leading receivers include A.J. McCarty (39-551, 4 TDs), Zach Strong (20-367, 5 TDs), Braden Jetton (14-199), Ben Kallman (11-191, TD), and Reece Rodgers (5-56). Rodgers (244 yards, TD) and Joseph Johnson (148 yards) are weapons out of the backfield.
“We’ll have our hands full but we’ve simplified what we’re doing and we’re just trying to execute,” Burnett said. “You’re going to see us go old school with the two tight ends, under center, three-back look like we’ve shown in the past. That’s one thing that La Vega hasn’t seen. We’ll see how well their back end comes up and forces the run because they’ve basically played spread teams with one back, maybe a little two-back stuff. It’ll be interesting to see if we can get those double teams and get to the second level and see if we can kick out a corner and lead on a safety. If the we can get 3 yards and roll that’ll be successful. We’re going to try and control the clock and keep the ball out of their hands as much as possible. Hopefully we can get in our three-back set and run the cutback, the lead and the dive and throw a couple of passes off that and maybe control the ball game that way. We’ll also mix in some two-back and one-back stuff as well and try and be versatile with what we do offensively.”
On the defensive end, Brownwood is giving up 28 points and 349 yards — 202 passing and 147 rushing — per game, with 12 takeaways for the season.
Standouts include Hayden Tunnell (61 tackles, 7 TFL), Ian Moreno (49 tackles, 2 TFL), Hunter Leonard (48 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), Santanna Espinoza (44 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks), Damion Jones (41 tackles, 3 TFL, .5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 INT), Rowdee Gregory (34 tackles, 4 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Clayton Bertrand (33 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 FRs), Khyren Deal (30 tackles, 1 INT), Strong (22 tackles, 4 INTs) and Kris Hobbs (20 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.5 sack).
“(La Vega) is big up front and real simple offensively,” Burnett said. “They run inside zone and outside zone with a counter here and there. They throw the ball a little bit, but they’re just big up front and have done a good job of controlling defenses.
“In the passing game, people have played off man or zone on them and La Vega has picked them apart. We’re going to press man them and try and stack the box and see how well we defend that. They haven’t had anybody in their face to press them like that, so we’re going to try and take some of their option routes out and make them beat us with the fade. They do a lot of stop and comeback routes, so we’re going to try and take that stuff away from them make them press the field vertical and take shots and hopefully we’ll defend those well. We’ll probably use A.J., Khyren, Braden and Reece at cornerback.”
On the injury/disciplinary front, the Lions will be without Cooper Swanzy, Grayson Swanzy, Grayson Stone, Strong and Tunnell this week.
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 30-point underdog.