McGREGOR — In their initial outing a year ago, the Brownwood Lions continued their string of consecutive appearances in the 7-on-7 state tournament by claiming one of two spots during the Gatesville qualifier.
The Lions’ quest for a 20th straight trip to College Station for the 7-on-7 state tournament will have to wait until at least their second tournament, as they were unable to advance past pool play in Saturday’s Gatesville qualifier.
With some pool games being played at McGregor’s turf stadium due to the threat of rain, Brownwood lost to the host Bulldogs, 26-25, in their first game; were thumped by Rockdale, 33-13, in the second; and rallied past Palestine, 21-18, in the finale after watching a 14-0 lead evaporate. The Lions led at halftime in all three contests.
“In a nutshell, I thought our defense played well enough to win three games,” said Lions second-year head coach Sammy Burnett, who was on hand to observe the action. “We just had too many dropped balls or overthrows on offense, and a few busted assignments.”
Brownwood scored on nine of its 21 possessions, a 43 percent success rate.
Quarterback Drew Huff, who moved in from Mineral Wells when his father, Jeff, accepted a position on the Lions coaching staff, made his 7-on-7 qualifying debut for Brownwood. Huff completed 62 percent of his passes — 44 of 71 — with nine touchdowns and one interception. In limited action at quarterback, A.J. McCarty connected on 3 of 11 pass attempts and was the victim of a few drops.
“It was the first time for Drew to be with us and he’s trying to learn the system,” Burnett said. “He was a little slow delivering the ball and trusting some of his reads sometimes, but he’ll get there. I thought A.J. looked pretty good when we was in at quarterback.”
The receiving corps was led by McCarty, who tallied 13 receptions and four touchdowns, along with Reece Rodgers out of the backfield as he grabbed 13 catches and scored twice. Also making an impact in the passing game were receivers Dane Johnson (eight catches), Isyah Campos (six catches, one touchdown), Damion Jones (two catches, one touchdown), Cooper Swanzy (two catches), Khyren Deal (two catches), and Hunter Day (one catch for a touchdown).
Defensively, the Lions recorded an interception in each game — Deal in the first, McCarty in the second and Rowdee Gregory on the final play of Palestine game, which secured the victory.
In the win over Palestine, the Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead by scoring on their first two possessions — with scoring receptions from Campos and Day. Palestine scored on the final drive of the first half and the opening drive of the second to close the gap to 14-12. After the Lions went 3-and-out on their first possession of the second half, Palestine responded by grabbing an 18-14 lead. Neither team scored on its next possession, but the Lions marched 45 yards in eight plays on their last drive as Huff hooked up with Jones from 10 yards out with just over two minutes left for the go-ahead score.
“Finishing the last game,” Burnett said, was the biggest positive of the day for the Lions. “Late in the game Palestine went up and we responded and put the ball in the end zone. We made some plays to give us that opportunity and our kids showed a willingness to want to win and a desire not to lose.”
In the opener with McGregor, the Lions led 13-12 at the halftime and 19-12 midway through the second half, as Huff and McCarty connected on three scoring tosses. McGregor grabbed a 26-19 lead, but Brownwood reached the end zone in the closing seconds on a Huff scoring toss to Rodgers — but the tying extra-point pass was unsuccessful.
“Everybody was a little tired coming off baseball, I thought that was the reason we were flat against McGregor, who was a pretty decent team,” Burnett said. “Execution and some dropped balls came back to get us.”
Against Rockdale, the Lions were in front 7-6 at the break but surrendered three straight touchdowns to begin the second half, falling in a 26-7 hole.
“We just didn’t put it together offensively,” Burnett said of the Rockdale contest. “We had overthrows, more dropped balls and the defense had some busted assignments.”
The Lions are back in action next Saturday at the Burnet qualifier.
“I just want to see the fundamentals,” Burnett said when asked what he would like to see most improved by next weekend. “Running the right routes properly, being open by the way you run your routes and executing and finishing plays. When a ball hits you in the hands you have to catch it.
“Defensively, we need to understand where we’re supposed to be and alignments that will put us in position to make more plays, and not look back at the quarterback, be a little more disciplined.”