BROCK — In an era where offenses have become more explosive than ever before, the Brownwood Lions turned in a defensive effort for the ages to kick off the 2019 high school football season.
The Lions posted their first shutout in four years, handing the Class 3A Division I No. 6 Brock Eagles just their 12th defeat since the program's inception in 2012 and first-ever shutout on their home turf, 10-0, Friday night.
Brownwood last blanked a foe on Nov. 6, 2015 at Gordon Wood Stadium, 38-0, against Big Spring. Brock, meanwhile, suffered a 21-0 loss at Argyle Christian in its third game last season, but never had the Eagles been shutout at home.
“I'm excited for the kids because of the excitement I see in them after a year's work of offseason and grind,” said Lions second-year head coach Sammy Burnett, whose team dropped a 41-10 decision to Brock at Gordon Wood Stadium in the 2018 opener. “The reward comes on Friday night through your hard work, your dedication and your belief in yourself and each other, and they showed that tonight. All in all, it's a great start for us.”
Brock advanced inside the Brownwood 30 yard line on five occasions, but came away with no points. Though the Lions yielded 331 yards, with 272 coming on the ground, Brownwood created four takeaways, including a pair with the Eagles marching inside the 10 yard line.
“Defensively I thought we played an outstanding ball game,” Burnett said. “Defense wins ball games and wins championships, and we won this game tonight because of our defense. We caused some turnovers and had a bend but not break mentality. I told them not to worry about the results of the last play, whatever it is, just play the next one. Don't worry about the line of scrimmage you're on, worry about the next play and being disciplined and playing assignment football. They did that, and if you do that, we're going to force them to make mistakes and we did that.”
Offensively, the Lions churned out 288 total yards — 186 rushing and 102 passing — behind the starting line of Jimi Brown, Brandon Farrow, Ethan Pesina, Brad Robinson and Theo Bryant. Brownwood did not commit a turnover, nor did the offensive line yield a sack to Brock's pesky 10-1 defense.
“The offensive line still needs time to gel, but for the first time playing at game speed against a worthy opponent, and a defense that gives you fits constantly, for us to put 10 points on the board, I'm pleased with it,” Burnett said.
Reece Rodgers rushed for 109 yards on 13 carries and accounted for the game's only touchdown on a 73-yard sprint with 8:21 left in the first half. The snap was just the ninth of the game for Brownwood, and only the second of its second possession. Rodgers took the handoff, quickly darted through an opening created by the line and outraced the Brock defense to the end zone.
“I can't credit myself at all, I give it all to the line,” Rodgers said. “They were busting it today and all week. I just found a hole and did what I could do.”
Burnett added, “Reece was patient and then was able to bust one to get us on the board early. We just pressed the zone knowing if we get on those blocks long enough he has the ability and speed to get into space and we did. We were that close to doing it three or four more times.”
Quarterback Drew Huff, making his first start as a Lion, completed 8 of 18 passes for 102 yards and also rushed for 77 yards on eight carries.
“I have to tip my hat to Drew, he played an outstanding ball game,” Burnett said. “He ran the system right, didn't make mistakes, put the ball where it needed to be and he came up with some big runs when we called his number.”
Huff added, “It was a crazy atmosphere and I think that's what lit our fire tonight. We drove down the field every opportunity we got and came away with some points every now and then, and that ended up being enough for us. It's not about stats and all that kind of stuff, I'm just glad we came home with a win starting out 1-0.”
The Lions were able to maintain the narrow cushion provided by Rodgers' long gallop despite multiple scoring threats by Brock.
The Eagles' opening 10-play drive of the game reached the Brownwood 27 where a Damion Jones sack of Brock quarterback Logan Lightfoot on fourth-and-6 ended the threat. Brock followed with an 11-play trek that stalled at the Brownwood 17, where Tatum Saathoff was wide left on a 34-yard field goal attempt. Two plays later, the Lions were in the end zone.
Brock's ensuing possession lasted just two plays, as Cooper Swanzy recovered a fumble at the Eagle 42 with 7:35 left in the second period, but Blaize Espinoza's 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jesse Hallmark.
The Eagles took over at the Brownwood 49 and moved to the 26 with 1:49 left in the half, where the Lions harassed Lightfoot into a fourth-and-5 incompletion.
Brock began its initial drive of the second half at its own 9 and traveled 90 yards to the Brownwood 1. There, facing fourth-and-goal, a bobbled snap resulted in a fumble recovered by Kris Hobbs, which kept the Lions in front with 4:06 left in the third.
“I'm proud of the team effort on defense,” linebacker Rowdee Gregory said. “We knew what we had to do, we knew they were a good power team that was going to run it down your throat. We prepared hard all week and played like we knew we could.”
Pinned at their own 3, a pair of fades from Huff to Zach Strong – covering 37 and 20 yards – allowed the Lions to march all the way to Brock 20. The drive ended without points, however, as Brownwood failed to convert a 35-yard field goal try on the first play of the final period.
“We freezed them because they were pinning their ears back and coming,” Burnett said of the passes to Strong. “I figured if we'd freeze them we'd get the first down and move the chains on a penalty or get a big play opportunity to throw the ball into a one-on-one matchup. That's why we were in trips and had the shorter guy on Zach, and we came through.”
Strong led the Lions with three grabs for 68 yards, A.J. McCarty caught two passes covering 27 yards, Rodgers made two grabs and Zane Johnson caught a 7-yard pass.
Brock's next drive resulted in its lone punt, and the Lions intended to boot the ball back to the Eagles with 6:57 left. But Cash Jones — who rushed for a game-high 185 yards on 24 carries and caught four passes covering 29 yards — mishandled the punt and Isyah Campos recovered at the Brock 41. Six plays later, aided by a Huff 28-yard jaunt, Espinoza drilled a 27-yard field goal to give the Lions a two-possession advantage with 4:04 to go.
Brock's final drive reached the Brownwood 9 with 1:27 to go, where Strong stepped in front of a pass attempt from Lightfoot for a game-clinching interception.
“The interception is what we've been working on all week, stay with your man and I watched him release and I made a play on the ball,” Strong said. “They'd gash us for a big play but we'd bow our necks and we'd stop them. That's poise and that's Brownwood Lions football.”
The Lions begin a three-game home stretch next week with their homecoming contest against Snyder, which is coming off a 34-27 loss to Littlefield.
“We have a lot to fix, but when you can win and fix it that's a lot better than losing and having to worry about it,” Burnett said. “We left 27 points out there. We dropped two balls in the end zone we should have caught, we overthrew a slant in the end zone and missed two field goals. We also busted a few assignments up front, but that's to be expected in Week 1.”
LIONS 10, BROCK 0
SCORE BY QUARTER
Brownwood 0 7 0 3 - 10
Brock 0 0 0 0 - 0
Bwd: Reece Rodgers 73 run (Blaize Espinoza kick), 8:21, 2nd
Bwd: Espinoza 27 FG, 4:04, 4th
First Downs 9 14
Total Offense 288 331
Rushing Yards 22-186 47-272
Passing Yards 102 59
C-A-I 8-18-0 5-7-1
Fumbles Lost 0 3
Punts 4-34.0 1-31.0
Penalties 6-60 3-35
Bwd: Reece Rodgers 13-109; Drew Huff 8-77; A.J. McCarty 1-0.
Brock: Cash Jones 24-185; Luke Dillingham 9-67.
B: Huff 8-18-0-102.
Brock: Logan Lightfoot 5-7-1-59.
Bwd: Zach Strong 3-6; A.J. McCarty 2-27; Rodgers 2-0; Dane Johnson 1-7.
Brock: Jones 3-29; Dillingham 1-30.