Brownwood settles for fourth seed, playoff opener with Kennedale
Following their first drive of the third quarter, the Brownwood Lions were in possession of a three-score advantage, the end of their two-game slump appeared within sight and the No. 3 playoff seed from District 5-4A Division I was virtually secured.
Then, the China Spring Cougars sent shock waves throughout Gordon Wood Stadium.
Trailing by 18 points with 21 minutes and 37 seconds left in the contest, China Spring reeled off the final 31 points to stun the Lions, 47-34, in Friday night’s regular season finale.
China Spring (5-5, 1-3) began the day on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, but by defeating Brownwood (4-5, 1-3) by more than 10 points the Cougars vaulted to the third seed and a bi-district playoff date with District 6-4A Division I runner-up Benbrook (8-2).
The Lions, who were dealt a third consecutive defeat, must rebound quickly as the District 6-4A Division I champion and reigning state finalist Kennedale Wildcats (8-2) await in the opening round of the playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Glen Rose.
“It’s on us and we have to take ownership of it,” Lions first-year head coach Sammy Burnett said following the loss to China Spring. “They beat us in the second half and I tip my hat to them. Do I like it? No. But it’s our fault and we are where we are because we put ourselves there, period. But it’s not over. Life is full of trials and adversities and the Lord put us here for a reason. We have a chance to have a silver lining. We still have a bi-district championship to play for and that’s what we wanted to start with.”
For third straight game, the Lions gave up at least 45 points and for the second game in a row the opposition generated well over 500 yards of total offense. China Spring produced 562 yards in fact — including 332 in the second half alone — behind a 318-yard ground attack and 244-yard air attack.
Offensively, in the first half the Lions produced 288 yards, did not commit a turnover and were flagged just three times. In the second half, aside from the 75-yard march to begin the third period, Brownwood mustered just 108 yards, turned the ball over twice and committed seven penalties for 72 yards.
“We just didn’t come out the second half,” Burnett said. “We had opportunities defensively to get off the field and didn’t and we couldn’t put the ball in the end zone. We stopped ourselves. I just think it was poor execution on our part. It wasn’t them it was us.
“The wheels fell off the wagon and it felt like sand through your hands, we just couldn’t make plays. We just didn’t get it done. I think our kids fought, we just lost momentum, forgot how to tackle, forgot how to catch the football and forgot how to block a little, and got beat.”
China Spring cut Brownwood’s lead to 34-32 with 8 seconds left in third period on a 16-yard touchdown run by Erik Hart, who finished with 235 yards and five Cougar scores.
Brownwood advanced to the China Spring 24 on the ensuing drive, where the march stalled with 7:40 to go.
A 54-yard pass from Brayden Faulkner to Jordan Nevarez, which included a couple of missed tackles, moved the ball to the Lion 1, and Hart scored on the next play to give China Spring a 40-34 edge with 6:18 to go, following a two-pass from Faulkner to K.J. Peoples.
On the next drive, the Lions moved from their own 30 to the Cougar 20, aided by a couple of defensive hold calls. Facing a first down with 2:44 left, China Spring’s Warren Brown stepped in front of a fade pattern to the end zone from Tommy Bowden for his second interception.
With 1:59 to go, the Lions had one more chance to regain possession and pull out the win, but China Spring opted to go for it on fourth-and-6 from its own 24. There — in a play that resembled the famed “catch” from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark — Faulkner, just before stepping out of bounds, hurled a pass down the sideline that Zach Bunkley grabbed out of midair for a 17-yard gain and a first down on his only reception of the game.
Not only did China Spring move the chains, the Cougars marched 59 more yards down the field and into the end zone in 97 seconds as Faulkner scored on a 12-yard carry with 22 ticks left on the clock to flip the playoff positions between the Lions and Cougars.
The Cougars jumped out to a 7-0 lead on a 45-yard scoring sprint by Hart just 1:26 into the contest, and China Spring looked to seize control early with its second possession inside Brownwood territory. There, Hunter Leonard stripped Hart of the ball, recovered the fumble and advanced to the Cougar 40 at 7:54 of the first period in the Lions’ first sign of life in the ball game.
Eight plays later, Bowden — who completed 22 of 40 passes for 389 yards with four touchdowns and two picks — threw his first scoring toss of the night to Braden Jetton on a slant from 14 yards out to knot the score at 7 with 6:31 left in the first.
The Lions took the lead on their next possession as, after starting on their own 2 following a 56-yard punt, Bowden connected with Reece Rodgers on a third-and-9 screen pass for an 84-yard touchdown and 14-7 Lions’ edge with 2:44 left in the first period. Rodgers was one of three Lions to eclipse 100 yards receiving, grabbing three passes totaling 104 yards.
Backed up to their own 6 on their next drive, the Lions wound up giving two points away as Brownwood was called for holding in the end zone, which resulted in a safety and allowed China Spring to close the gap to 14-9 just 45 seconds into the second period.
The Lions turned away China Spring after the Cougars reached the Brownwood 35, and seven plays later Bowden again connected with Jetton — who hauled in eight catches for 104 yards — for his second scoring grab, a leaping 33-yard reception into the end zone.
Brownwood’s 20-9 lead didn’t last long as China Spring crept within 20-16 on a 2-yard plunge by Hart, which was set up by his 44-yard scamper down the Lion 11.
The Lions answered, however, with just 1:05 left in the half as Bowden found A.J. McCarty — who finished with a team-best 124 yards receiving on a six catches — over the middle for a 63-yard touchdown reception. McCarty was able to beat the double coverage and then wrestled his way out of two tackle attempts inside the 20 to complete the touchdown.
Leading 27-16 at halftime, the Lions received the opening kick and advanced 75 yards in six plays as Bowden, who sparked the drive with a 29-yard scramble, also concluded it with a 3-yard touchdown run.
And with that, the offensive fireworks for the Lions ended at 9:37 of the third quarter.
Brownwood finished with 471 yards of total offense — 389 through the air and 82 rushing yards on 26 yards.
China Spring closed the gap to 34-24 on a 3-yard Hart run and two-point pass from Faulkner to Peoples — who caught a game-high 12 passes for 123 yards.
After trading punts and a Brown interception of Bowden at the China Spring 15, Hart’s 16-yard dash on the next-to-last play of the third reduced Brownwood’s lead to two points.
The fourth period then belonged to the Cougars.
Friday’s contest also marked Senior Night for the Lions, and Burnett reflected on the contributions the Class of 2019 have made in his first season at the helm of his alma mater.
“Any successes we’ve had this season and any growth we’ve made in our program is because of the character of our seniors,” Burnett said. “They’re uncommon in the fact that they decided to embrace a new coach and a new staff and a new system when most places never do that. They took advantage of the opportunities they had to grow, to live the life of a Lion and to lead their team the best they possible could. I’m proud of them for doing that and I pray to the good Lord they have an opportunity to win one of those gold balls and be bi-district champions, move on to the next round and see where that takes us.”
Looking ahead to Kennedale, the Wildcats are coming off a 52-14 victory over Benbrook in their most recent outing on Nov. 1. Kennedale has suffered losses to Midlothian Heritage (35-7) and Springtown (30-0).
“Maybe the Lord put us in this position to test our character and see what kind of team we are,” Burnett said. “Are we going to rise up through adversity and find something good out of it or are we going to fold our tent and quit? We’re going to be defined from what we do from this moment forward.”
CHINA SPRING 47,
SCORE BY QUARTER
China Spring 7 91615 - 47
Brownwood14 13 7 0- 34
CS: Erik Hart 45 run (Karson Coe kick), 10:34, 1st — 0-7
B: Braden Jetton 14 pass from Tommy Bowden (Zack Smith kick), 6:31, 1st — 7-7
B: Reece Rodgers 84 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 2:44, 1st — 14-7
CS: Safety (holding in the end zone), 11:15, 2nd — 14-9
B: Jetton 33 pass from Bowden (kick blocked), 7:46, 2nd — 20-9
CS: Hart 2 run (Coe kick), 4:38, 2nd — 20-16
B: A.J. McCarty 63 pass from Bowden (Smith kick), 1:05, 2nd — 27-16
B: Bowden 3 run (Smith kick), 9:37, 3rd — 34-16
CS: Hart 3 run (K.J. Peoples pass from Brayden Faulkner), 8:01, 3rd — 34-24
CS: Hart 16 run (Peoples pass from Faulkner), 0:08, 3rd — 34-32
CS: Hart 1 run (Peoples pass from Faulkner), 6:18, 4th — 34-40
CS: Faulkner 12 run (Coe kick), 0:22, 4th — 34-47
CS: Erik Hart 26-235, Brayden Faulkner 15-59, K.J. Peoples 1-22.
B: Tommy Bowden 16-47, Reece Rodgers 8-29, A.J. McCarty 1-4, Khyren Deal 1-2.
CS: Faulkner 18-28-0-244.
B: Bowden 22-40-2-389.
CS: Peoples 12-123, Jordan Nevarez 3-86, Hart 2-8, Zach Bunkley 1-17.
B: Braden Jetton 8-104, McCarty 6-124, Rodgers 3-104, Hunter Leonard 3-45, Ben Kallman 2-12.