With a La Vega victory over Gatesville Friday night, Brownwood is in the playoffs. And if the Lions knock off the China Spring Cougars in the home finale, the Lions will be the No. 3 seed out of District 5-4A Division I and face District 6-4A runner-up Benbrook. If China Spring were to defeat the Lions, it would take a victory by 10 points or more to push Brownwood down to the fourth seed and a matchup with 6-4A champion Kennedale, as long as La Vega is victorious.
If Gatesville were to stun La Vega, then the Brownwood-China Spring winner would move on to the playoffs and the head-to-head result with Gatesville would determine the seeding. The Lions would still be the third seed in that situation, but a loss would end Brownwood’s year.
Those are the scenarios the Lions (4-4, 1-2) face at 7 p.m. Friday at Gordon Wood Stadium as they attempt to snap a two-game skid, keep China Spring (4-5, 0-3) winless in league action and prepare for what would be their 10th consecutive postseason appearance and first under head coach Sammy Burnett.
“It’s going to be a big game and they’re going to come out fighting because if they lose they’re done,” Burnett said of China Spring. “Our advantage, I hope, is that they aren’t up to game speed and we can get on them early and stay on top of them. But they’re going to be prepared for us, and I’m sure they have a couple of tricks under their sleeve.”
The Cougars have dropped all three of their district contests to Stephenville (21-14), Gatesville (29-25) and La Vega (56-17), and are coming off a bye week which has given China Spring extra time to prepare.
“They’re not to be overlooked,” Burnett said. “They were ranked in the preseason Top 10 for a reason. They’ve beat some good ball clubs and dropped some games that you sort of wonder why. You see them on film against Stephenville and they looked really good, but against Gatesville they didn’t look as good. But they’ve had a week to prepare, a week off to heal.”
Brayden Faulkner has returned from injury at quarterback, K.J. Peoples has been used all over the field including catching nine passes for 164 yards and a touchdown against La Vega, and Erik Hart shattered the school record for rushing yards in a game, racking up 307 earlier this season while averaging almost 200 yards on the ground per outing.
“They’ve got their quarterback back so they’re a different football team when they have him,” Burnett said. “He’s a 6-2 freshman, big kid that throws the ball well. They’re led by K.J. Peoples. He plays a little running back, some slot receiver, some wide out, gets in the quarterback position in the wildcat, so he does lots of stuff. We definitely have to stop him. And their full-time running back, Erik Hart, he’s really good.
“They’re multi-faceted on offense. The last couple of weeks they’ve had Peoples in at quarterback and they’ve been predominantly a run team so people were able to focus on the run and not worry so much about the pass. With their quarterback back, he came off a knee injury, they’re more versatile on offense.”
The Lions gave up 537 total yards, including 390 rushing, last week to La Vega, which scored on its first seven possessions. For the season, Brownwood is yielding 31 points and 372 yards — 195 passing and 177 rushing — per game, with 12 takeaways. The Lions have won the turnover battle in all four of their wins and been on the negative side in each of the four losses.
Leading tackler Hayden Tunnell (61 tackles, 7 TFL) will be back in the lineup this week, while other standouts include Ian Moreno (54 tackles, 2 TFL), Hunter Leonard (52 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT), Santanna Espinoza (46 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks), Damion Jones (42 tackles, 3 TFL, .5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 INT), Rowdee Gregory (40 tackles, 5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Clayton Bertrand (38 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 FRs), Khyren Deal (35 tackles, 1 INT), and Kris Hobbs (24 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.5 sack).
On the flip side, the Lions are generating 28 points and 392 yards — 218 through the air and 174 on the ground — per outing, with eight giveaways, including three in the last two contests. Brownwood racked up 433 yards a week ago, but scratched out just 19 points.
Quarterback Tommy Bowden has completed 118 of 210 passes for 1,746 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, while rushing for a team-high 741 yards and 15 scores. Leading receivers include A.J. McCarty (44-633, 4 TDs), Braden Jetton (21-322, TD), Strong
(20-367, 5 TDs), Ben Kallman (12-195, 2 TDs), Reece Rodgers (7-62) and Leonard (5-77). Other threats on the ground include Rodgers (247 yards, 2 TDs), Joseph Johnson (150 yards), and Khyren Deal (119 yards).
China Spring, meanwhile, is surrendering 28 points per game overall, and 35 points per game in district action.
“I think the heart of their team is their defense,” Burnett said. “They remind me a lot defensively of Stephenville. They do a good job of getting where they’re supposed to be, they understand their system and they’ve been doing it for a long time. They’re really good in the back end and cover well. Josh Thomas is a force, a big kid inside that moves really well. We’re going to do what we have to do to make sure we keep our double teams on offense to keep him from making plays in the backfield. Their linebacker corps is a good group that covers well. They’re multiple in what they do, so we’re not too sure what we’re going to see.
“It’ll take a series or two to see what they settle in and what will work well for us. They’ve been in a 3-3 stack, they’ve been in an even front, but I think their core defensive set is a 3-4 where they try and play their backers in the box and stop the run, then as soon as they see a pass read they fly out to their zones. If they have a weakness I think it’s their safeties. They’re good run fit guys but I don’t know how great they are in coverage. We’re going to try and get them in some one-on-one matchups and put our good guys on their safeties and see if we can make some plays that way.”
On the injury front, the Lions could be without Bowden and Leonard Friday night.
“Hunter is nursing an LCL strain and hasn’t practiced this week,” Burnett said. “We put him in a brace and I think he’ll be OK to go by Friday. Tommy hasn’t practiced yet either with a hip and back issue and will be evaluated again Thursday. Those two are going to be hard to keep out of the game. They’re competitors and fighters and want to play but we have to do what’s in the best interest of them health-wise. Tommy could possibly be out, and Hunter will probably wind up playing. If Tommy’s not able to go Clayton will be the guy and we’ll move up Major Bowden from the freshman team to be the backup.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, the game is a toss up.