With an upset of Brock and a dismantling of Snyder, the Brownwood Lions in Week 3 of the 2019 high school football season find themselves at No. 9 in the most recent Harris Ratings Weekly Class 4A Division I poll.
As the Lions seek their first 3-0 start since 2015, the Graham Steers — also undefeated and ranked No. 9 in Class 4A Division II by Harris Ratings Weekly — prepare to invade Gordon Wood Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Lions — one of three teams in District 5-4A Division I, along with No. 4 La Vega and No. 8 China Spring, ranked in the Top 10 — have opened their season with a 10-0 victory at Brock, the first time the Eagles have been blanked at home in the program's eight-year history, and a 70-3 thrashing of Snyder, a game in which the Brownwood led 42-0 after one quarter despite snapping the ball only four times in the period.
Meanwhile, Graham upended Wichita Falls Hirschi, 41-28, in its season opener, and followed with a 56-0 drubbing of Mineral Wells last week.
“It's been a pretty good matchup in the past and once again it's going to be a slobber knocker,” said Lions second-year head coach Sammy Burnett. “They're ranked No. 9 in their class and we're ranked No. 9 in ours, and we're thankful for those rankings. A lot of times people get caught up in those, but for us we've been telling the kids we've been working hard to get the respect of people and to be respected for the hard work that they've done. Now that we're getting the respect from the Harris Ratings and all these polls, now you have to prove that you're worthy of those rankings.”
Graham enters the game averaging 48.5 points and 473 yards — 285.5 rushing and 187.5 passing — per outing.
The Steers are led by quarterback Hunter Lanham (30 of 52 for 346 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs), while leading receivers include Daniel Gilbertson (15-166, 3 TDs), Damien Zemski (4-46), Gaven Henderson (3-53), Matthew Lindquist (3-43), Brody Rogers (2-22) and Trey Overcash (2-16). Threats out of the backfield include Brandon Palacios (33-229, 2 TDs), Gilbertson (17-208, 3 TDs) and Jonathan Salazar (15-133).
“They're a very good offense led by their quarterback, who was the starting quarterback as a sophomore last year,” Burnett said. “They have a great receiver/running back in Daniel Gilbertson and they'll split him out wide and they'll put him in the slot, and they have a great corps of receivers. They're good up front, the tackles are pretty tall, bigger kids, and the guards are shorter and stocky.
“Our kids have been focused this week, I think we have a great scheme, and I think we're going to play really fast on defense. We've simplified a lot of stuff and I think we can neutralize what they do.”
The Lions counter with a defense that was 2:17 away from back-to-back shutouts to start the year. Along with giving up 1.5 points on average, Brownwood yields 214 yards — 160 on the ground and 54 through the air — and has created seven takeaways — four interceptions and three fumble recoveries.
Leading the way for the Lions are lineman Kris Hobbs (16 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 FR), linebackers Cooper Swanzy (14 tackles, 1 FR), Landon Harris (14 tackles, 1 sack, 0.5 TFL), and Rowdee Gregory (13 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT), safeties Khyren Deal (13 tackles) and Zach Strong
(10 tackles, 2 INTs), Theo Bryant (10 tackles, 2 TFL) and Ezequiel Ibarra (10 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 TFL) up front, linebacker Damion Jones (10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 TFL, 1 INT) and Royshad Henderson (7 tackles, 1 TFL) in the secondary.
Graham's defense is surrendering 14 points a game with six takeaways — three interceptions and three fumble recoveries — along with 12 sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Leading tacklers include strong safety J.J. Lee (17 tackles), linebacker Salvador Mendez (16 tackles), safety Zach Martin (14 tackles), tackles Aaron McBride (13 tackles) and Lars Hanssen (12 tackles) and middle linebacker Corey Ballew (10 tackles).
“They're good at what they do in their system and they run a 4-2-5 on defense,” Burnett said. “They're led by their line and tackle Jesus Renteria, a big kid who was a force for them last year, and also Lars Hanssen, another big kid they put down at nose,” Burnett said. “The defensive ends aren't real big, but Landon Hebert is a good kid that penetrates real quick, so we're going to have our hands full with them. At linebacker, Salvador Mendez started last year, and Corey Ballew is back, and both those guys were sophomores last year. There's only eight seniors on their roster.”
Brownwood is producing 40 points per game on average, along with 309.5 total yards — 220.5 rushing and 89 passing. The Lions first-team offense has also been sacked only once, committed just one pre-snap penalty and have yet to commit a turnover.
Behind the line of Bryant, Jimi Brown, Brad Robinson, Brandon Farrow and Ethan Pesina, quarterback Drew Huff is 10 of 21 through the air for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while rushing for 138 yards and another score. Reece Rodgers anchors the ground game with 221 yards and four touchdowns on just 18 carries, an average of 12.3 yards per tote. A.J. McCarty (4-86, 2 TDs) and Strong (3-68) have been the primary receiving weapons, while Isyah Campos (1-17, TD) could get more looks this week.
“This is a great matchup for us and an opportunity for both programs to see where they are,” Burnett said. “If we're worthy of that No. 9 ranking, either one of us, we have to go out there and perform. Win or lose we're going to find out where we are and what we need to do to continue to grow and get to where we want to be so when district starts we'll be ready and raring to go. It's one more opponent we have to face that's going to ranked, but I think we're ready and excited for the opportunity and I think we'll put a great product on the field once again.”
According to Harris Ratings Weekly, Brownwood is a 10-point favorite.