The opportunity to put a disappointing end to the regular season behind them presents itself to the Brownwood Lions Thursday night, as they challenge the reigning Class 4A Division I state finalist Kennedale Wildcats in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Class 3A Division I Region II bi-district battle between the District 5-4A fourth-seed Lions (4-5) and District 6-4A champion Wildcats (8-2) will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Glen Rose.
“We have a chance to be in the playoffs this week and we’re thankful for that opportunity,” said Lions first-year head coach Sammy Burnett. “We’re playing a team that is coming off a state finals run last year … but we’re just going to go bow our neck up and play. It’s never ever been about who Brownwood’s played, it’s how Brownwood’s played. We talked to our kids about that and a great example was this past Friday night. It wasn’t who we were playing, it was how we wound up playing that gave them an opportunity to win. If we would have taken care of business midway through the third and fourth quarters like we had the previous 2½ quarters we wouldn’t have had an issue, but we didn’t. We lost some focus and hopefully we learned a lesson from that.”
The Lions head into the playoffs in the midst of a three-game losing streak — including Friday’s stunning 47-34 home defeat to China Spring in which the Cougars tallied the final 31 points in just over 20 minutes — and Brownwood will attempt to reverse a few negative trends that have led to their recent results.
During their current three-game skid, the Lions are allowing 49.7 points and 509.7 yards — 292.7 rushing and 217 passing — per outing, with the yardage surrendered increasing each game. Brownwood gave up 430 yards in a 45-20 loss to Stephenville, 537 yards in a 56-17 defeat at La Vega, and 562 yards a week ago as China Spring stormed back for a 47-34 victory.
While the Lions have generated an average of 417 yards in the last three games, with 326 of those yards coming through the air, the Lions produced just 24 points on average — and five of Brownwood’s 10 turnovers for the season have also occurred during that span.
In the Lions’ four victories this season, they have won the turnover battle in each. In the five outings when Brownwood has finished either even or on the negative side of the turnover battle, the Lions have come up on the short end of the scoreboard.
Brownwood has also been flagged 19 times for 169 yards over the previous three contests, including 10 times for 82 yards against China Spring – with seven coming in the ill-fated second half.
Reflecting on the loss to China Spring last week, Burnett said, “There was a total lack of execution in all phases in the second half. We took the first drive of the second half and went down and scored and everything seemed to be good. I guess we lost a little focus — too many dropped balls, too many overthrown balls, too many protection breaks and too many missed tackles. There’s a variety of things that contributed to that debacle, that’s the best way I can say it. It’s still weighing on me but we have to find a way to fix those things and move forward.”
Kennedale, under head coach Richard Barrett, carries a six-game win streak — all district contests — into the bi-district round, having outscored their 6-4A foes by a 309-27 count, an average of 51 to 4.
The Wildcats’ two losses came in pre-district action, 35-7 to Midlothian Heritage in Week 2, and 30-0 to Springtown in Week 4.
Kennedale manufactures 41 points and 327 yards — 248 rushing and 79 passing — per game out of the Wing-T offense.
Leading rushers include Micah Conner (435 yards, 5 TDs), Antwone Parker (376 yards, 6 TDs), Marlete Joyner Jr. (329 yards, 5 TDs), De’Shaun Kirven (328 yards, 6 TDs) and Donovan Rubin (326 yards, 7 TDs). Quarterback Evan Jowers has connected on 35 of 69 passes for 624 yards with 10 touchdowns and only one interception. Jaden Smith is the leading receiver with 18 grabs for 236 yards and four scores, while Carrington Roblow has contributed seven catches for 169 yards and four trips to the end zone.
“They run the Wing-T, it’s old school, right at you and in your face and they’re extremely good at it,”Burnett said. “I talked to Coach Garrett on the phone Saturday and he said he’s been there for nine years and he said ‘that’s all our kids know.’ They’ve bought into it, they run, run, run and try and sneak a boot leg pass or tight end dump in on you and try and get you undisciplined. They have a running back that’s exceptional. He was out early in the year and missed some games, but he’s back now and he’s pretty good. We have to do the best we can to have our eyes where they’re supposed to be and not lose focus. Cover the man we’re supposed to cover, hit our fits where we’re supposed to hit our fits and control the line of scrimmage.”
Brownwood counters with a defense that has given up 33 points and 393 yards — 200 passing and 193 rushing — on average, with 14 takeaways.
Leading the charge are Hayden Tunnell (74 tackles, 8 TFL), Ian Moreno (64 tackles, 2 TFL), Hunter Leonard (56 tackles, 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 INT), Santanna Espinoza (54 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks), Damion Jones (51 tackles, 3 TFL, .5 sacks, 2 FRs, 1 INT), Rowdee Gregory (47 tackles, 5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), Clayton Bertrand (47 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 FRs), Khyren Deal (42 tackles, 1 INT), Kris Hobbs (28 tackles, 2 TFL, 0.5 sack) and Zach Strong (22 tackles, 4 INTs).
Defensive standouts for Kennedale — which allows just 14 points per game with 16 takeaways and 19 sacks this season — include Ethan Bishop (63 tackles, 17 for loss, 9 sacks), Kade Stephenson (47 tackles, 6 for loss), J.D. Coffey (39 tackles, 6 INTs), Jalen Myers (32 tackles, 8 for loss, 1 sack, 1 FR) and Wayne Landry (31 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 FR).
“They’re going to do the best they can to mix it up on defense,” Burnett said. “They’re a 10-1, they like to be sort of a Brock style defense. They’re going to bring it from all angles and in different coverages. They’ll be in zero coverage, which is no safeties, straight man and bringing seven. They’re be in a 6-1, which is six down linemen, one linebacker to cover your back and then be in man. They’ll be in man two free, where they have everybody manned underneath with two free safeties roaming to be able to play run and pass. They’re going to mix it up and bring a lot of pressure, so we’re going to try and counter that with quick release, block down, kick out schemes which do well against gap control type defenses.”
The Lions offense produces 29 points and 401 yards — 237 passing and 164 rushing — per game, with 10 turnovers.
Quarterback Tommy Bowden has completed 140 of 250 passes for 2,135 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions and rushed for a team-high 788 yards and 16 scores. Other threats out of the backfield include Reece Rodgers (276 yards, 2 TDs), Joseph Johnson (150 yards) and Khyren Deal (121 yards). Leading receivers include A.J. McCarty (50-757, 5 TDs), Braden Jetton (29-426, 3 TDs), Strong (20-367, 5 TDs), Ben Kallman (14-207, 2 TDs, Rodgers (10-166, TD) and Leonard (8-122).
“We’re going to try and be simple, but we will have some tricks for them,” Burnett said. “It’s that time of the year where you pull it all out. We’ve been working on things all year and you don’t just work on them for nothing. Onside kicks, fake punts, going for it on fourth down from your own 30, it’s whatever you can do because there’s no tomorrow and you have to do what you can when you have those opportunities.”
On the injury front, Strong is expected to be back from a concussion while Hobbs will be out due to a concussion and will likely be replaced on the defensive front by Ezequiel Ibarra. Cooper Swanzy could make his season debut in the secondary after missing the regular season with a broken collarbone.
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 21-point underdog.
Thursday’s winner will face either Paris (7-2) or Dallas Carter (6-4) in the area round of the playoffs next weekend.