The Brownwood Lions put forth their most complete performance of the 7-on-7 qualifying season Saturday in front of a hometown crowd, and in the process secured their 20th consecutive state tournament berth.
By virtue of defeating Lubbock Christian (27-12), Burnet (35-6) and Gatesville (33-18) in pool play, and Breckenridge (47-12) in semifinal action, the Lions are bound for the 7-on-7 Division II state tournament at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex in College Station June 27-28. Brownwood has made the trip every summer since 2000.
“It means a lot to the kids and the community,” Lions head coach Sammy Burnett said of continuing the string of state tournament appearances. “It's the 20th year in a row, and it's something we always want to do. As a football coach you're just working on improvements for your season. We want to see our program grow and develop and this is a part of it. Being represented at state once again is a big deal.”
Quarterback Drew Huff, a move-in from Mineral Wells, looked as sharp as he has through three state qualifying tournaments thus far. Huff connected on 87 of 125 passes — 70 percent — with 19 touchdowns and just one interception on a deflection. In four games, the Lions scored on 19 of 26 possessions — a 74 percent success rate.
“Drew is still working on some mechanical stuff but he's getting more accustomed to the offense and made some good play calls,” Burnett said. “I'm pleased with his progress.”
More receivers continued to work their way into the mix as the pass distribution was as balanced as its been through three tournaments. Dane Johnson led the way with a team-best 15 grabs and a touchdown followed by Isyah Campos (14 catches, 2 TDs), Zach Strong (12 catches, 3 TDs), A.J. McCarty and Khyren Deal (11 catches, 3 TDs each), Cade Jetton (9 catches, 2 TDs), Parish White (5 catches, 1 TD), Damion Jones (4 catches, 2 TDs), and Royshad Henderson and Hunter Day (3 catches, 1 TD apiece).
On the defensive end, the Lions intercepted five passes, including three in the finale against Breckenridge. Rowdee Gregory, Campos and Deal — with a pick six — nabbed interceptions in the final game. Campos added a pick six in the win over Burnet, while Strong hauled in an interception against Gatesville.
Strong was making his 7-on-7 state qualifying tournament debut this summer.
“I had a lot discussion with Zach, he's trying to determine if he wants to play or not because of basketball,” Burnett said. “He came out to practice and came out today and was a big difference. He's a great ball hawk on defense and does a great job breaking on balls. He also made some great plays offensively. He's just a threat and I do believe he's a Division I athlete and he showed some of that today. It was a big lift for the kids to see him back out here and we're excited about him being part of the team.”
In the state-clinching victory over Breckenridge, the Lions jumped in front 7-0 when Huff found McCarty in the end zone after Deal's interception ended the Buckaroos' first drive. Breckenridge closed to within 7-6 on its second drive, but Gregory's interception on the extra-point try kept the Lions in front.
Brownwood followed with three consecutive touchdowns to open a commanding 28-6 lead as Jetton, Strong and Day reeled in scoring tosses from Huff. After Breckenridge closed to within 28-12, the Lions fired back with the final three scores of the day on tosses from Huff to Deal and Campos, along with a pick six by Deal on the final snap of the contest.
“Breckenridge walked through their bracket and scored a lot of points, but I thought we played as a unit, offensively and defensively, probably our best 7-on-7 game so far,” Burnett said. “It was nice to see that and we dominated.”
In the opening 27-12 win over Lubbock Christian, the Lions jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead on scoring tosses from Huff to Henderson and Deal. Lubbock Christian closed the gap to 13-12 at halftime, but Brownwood keep the opposition off the board in the second half, while Huff hooked up with Campos and McCarty in the end zone.
“We started a little sluggish as we normally do because it's early in the morning on a Saturday, but we played a good Lubbock Christian team and our kids played well and got a win there,” Burnett said.
In a rematch of Brownwood's 45-40 loss to Burnet on the final play of the Burnet championship game two weeks, the Lions rolled to a 35-6 triumph.
Leading 7-6 after the second drives for both teams, the Lions increased their lead to 14-6 at halftime when Huff connected with Jones for both the touchdown and extra-point conservation. The Lions defense then posted its second straight second-half shutout, aided by a Campos interception returned 43 yards for a touchdown that put the game out of reach, 28-6. Johnson and Jones also hauled in scoring receptions from Huff in the second half.
Against Gatesville, the defensive shutout came in the first half as the Lions built a 13-0 lead at the break, which grew to 20-0 thanks to scoring receptions by McCarty, Jetton and Strong. Deal and White added touchdown grabs in the second half.
“We played Burnet and responded from two weeks ago, and then we came out strong against Gatesville as well,” Burnett said.
The Lions will wrap up qualifying season at the Jim Ned tournament Saturday, as they will play a trio of pool games. Brownwood can no longer advance past pool play since securing a state berth.
“We'll probably look at a couple more kids in different positions for us so that we have a better understanding of what we want to do and how we want to attack it in August,” Burnett said of the Jim Ned tournament objectives. “We're going to try to compete, get better and win, but we will give some kids some other opportunities at some other positions so we can evaluate them.”
Stephenville earned the second state tournament berth out of the Brownwood qualifier, defeating Lampasas, 58-54, in the other semifinal.